Faces of the Forest Service

Meet Jim Oftedal

Office of Communication
May 18th, 2011 at 8:30PM

Jim is a leader in the agency, a mentor in the community, and a community organizer. He credits his success because of his creative grassroots approach and his continued desire to building strong relationships in diverse communities.

He began working for the US Forest Service more than 30 years ago and worked his way up to a leadership position on the Sierra National Forest. For the past 15 years, he has served as the Director of the Central California Consortium (CCC), a program that was created to help the agency better reflect the demographics of California. 

Jim began his grassroots approach working in the Latino farming community of Fresno County and later expanded the program into the Hmong community. Most recently, he has been working on strengthening the agency’s connection and creating opportunities for students from African American communities in West Fresno. He has made a positive impact on hundreds of young people while strengthening the Forest Service image along the way. 


Why is your job and the CCC important to those in your community? 

My job allows me to make a difference in the lives of talented diverse youth. I enjoy seeing students thrive to become productive young citizens. I am honored to serve the community by providing valuable resources. We have successfully gained their trust and they now see us as an important part of the community. The program serves as a bridge between the agency and the underserved communities of Central California and other designated areas. It consists of three main components: community, a kindergarten through 12th grade environmental education program that we call, “Generation Green”, and an employment piece.  The Central Valley has a high school dropout rate of almost 40 percent. Our program works with the school system to provide a solution. In our farming communities, we have offices at the schools. This allows our staff to serve as visible role models; providing bilingual environmental education to elementary and middle school students, a mentoring program to middle and high school students, and leadership and summer internship opportunities for high school Generation Green club members. 

The CCC utilizes a pipeline approach, focusing on K-8th grade environmental education, 9-12th leadership and summer employment, and our college students become eligible for permanent career opportunities.  Environmental education is an important component. I believe in engaging youth with environmental issues relevant to them. We also teach them about watersheds. For example, we teach them that the water that flows in the canals irrigates the crops that we pick and eat. Students are surprised to learn that water comes from watersheds and not by simply turning on the faucet. We also educate the community. Some communities are at the base of our forests and a national park. They walk out of their doors in the morning, see the Sequoia National Forest, Sequoia National Park, and the Sierra National Forest---yet they don’t visit them. I understand the barriers that limit their participation. I myself lived in the area all of my life and I did not go to the forest until I got a job with the Forest Service. My staff members are also from the communities we serve. Since we can relate to them, we take action to inform them of their right to enjoy their public lands, how to conserve and preserve, and regarding career opportunities within the agency.

What challenges did you the CCC program face? How did you overcome those challenges? 

In the beginning, the CCC was not well received because of negative stereotypes employers had about young people. I initially hired just five students and pretty much paid for their internships. I motivated and mentored the students and they proved to be hard working employees. From then on, opportunities to place more students increased and it was clear that the agency was benefiting by getting critical work completed. Students were benefiting by gaining work experience and exposure to agency careers. The community then saw students gaining summer employment and careers. It was a win-win for everyone and helped us grow the program to where it is today. Since the program’s inception,  we have placed over 1,000 diverse students not only in Pacific Southwest Region (CA) but also in the Pacific Northwest Region (OR and WA), and with other agencies including the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. Last year we placed 166 students! 

I started this program alone, but I now have a staff of nine employees. They witnessed young people becoming leaders in their community. We are based in the community, and I work out of the Sierra National Forest and serve all the forests from the Sequoia to South Lake Tahoe. Our program is known as a professional program run by young staff members.  We take pride in providing quality customer service through innovative techniques. For example, we have a user friendly website that makes it easy for students to apply and for supervisors to request students. A key to our success has been creating strong partnerships, within the agency and in the community to leverage funds and resources. Just this year, the CCC received the Regional Forester’s Honor Award for Diversity and Civil Rights, as well as the Forest Service Chief’s Business Operations Award for Civil Rights. 


If there was one word you would use to describe yourself, what would it be?

Several words come to mind; dedicated, visionary, and blessed. The reason I say this is, I started out as one person helping to make a difference and through that dedication and vision I now have new helpers that have been able to reach so many others.


In what ways have you raised the bar for yourself and others?

Well, I think our program helps young people believe in themselves. We give them opportunities to succeed and build confidence, all while gaining leadership and job skills. A lot of the students’ parents work 12-16 hours in the fields and come home too tired to talk or ask their child about their day. Some of them may not hear “I love you” often, get help with homework, or get encouragement to excel in school. It is hard for parents who never went to high school or college to help their kids with homework. Our program provides that extra support and encouragement. They now have someone that will challenge them to be their best and who will hold them accountable. This is something I strongly believe and take personal interest in doing. My students know that they can call me anytime. If something is wrong, I will call them out of class to find out what is going on. I believe in tough love, taking no less than excellence, and holding young people accountable.


When you are not working, what do you like to do?

Besides my full-time job, I enjoy coaching a Division-1 girl’s soccer team that travels up and down California and spending time with my family. Although my position is demanding, I always make it a point to spend time with my family because they are my foundation. I am a very proud father of two young ladies, who are the joy of my life. My oldest just graduated from high school and will be going on to college and my youngest was just promoted to high school. I never allowed my daughters to own a dog, even though they have begged for years and years, until now. We recently adopted a Chihuahua Terrier named Bruiser. Although I haven’t told them, I enjoy taking care of all three and a half pounds of Bruiser!



The Faces of the Forest is a project of the U.S. Forest Service Office of Communication to showcase the people, places and professions within our agency, which is responsible for 193 million acres of forests and grasslands in 44 states and territories. If you know someone you would like to have profiled here, send an email with the person's name, work location and a bit about to Faces of the Forest.