Faces of the Forest Service

Meet LaTasha Wauneka

December 20th, 2019 at 11:18AM

LaTasha grew up in Window Rock, Arizona, the capital city of the Navajo Nation. Deeply rooted to her Diné (Navajo) past, she now works as an assistant recreation staff officer on the Lincoln National Forest in the Sacramento Ranger District. She takes pride in making sure visitors to the Lincoln have a positive, memorable experience. LaTasha enjoys working with tribal and other youth groups to share her knowledge of the forest while creating opportunities for personal and economic development.

Who or what inspired you growing up?
My parents, nephews and niece. My parents worked to the bone to give us a life better than theirs. My nephews and niece reminded me to do the same for them.

Is there anything you’d like to share about Native American culture and/or how it may have influenced your work today?
All indigenous cultures are beautiful and unique. We may have a lot of similarities, but we also have uniqueness in each of our own cultures. It’s a beautiful and strong thing to have ancestors that have always kept you in mind, no matter what they were going through. So, I make connections and build partnerships between the USDA Forest Service and tribal nations, especially for the youth, to create and foster employment opportunities and experiences.

What do you like to do for fun in your free time?

Knowing that recreation is many peoples’ first encounter with the agency LaTasha knows how important it is to stay on top of maintaining critical infrastructure.
Knowing that recreation is many peoples’ first encounter with the agency LaTasha knows how important it is to stay on top of maintaining critical infrastructure. (Photographer/Monica Rico-Riise)

I like being in the outdoors, whether sitting, walking, hiking or taking road trips on the back roads. Exploring the land has always been a soothing escape. Visiting family and catching up is always great.

What position do you hold in the Forest Service and when did you start working here?

I started as an intern in 2012 and was permanently hired in 2016. Today I serve as the assistant recreation staff officer on the Lincoln National Forest. I help manage special-use permit administration and the Trails Program. I work with the public when they want to put on activities for others, such as outfitting and guiding hunts, trail running races, etc. I also manage the trails crew’s maintenance work on trails and recreation areas/sites and coordinate with the non-profit partners and volunteers that join in from time to time. 

What is your favorite part of your job?

Learning new things and working with youth and the crew when I can. I love teaching them new and old things, from using a hand tool to leading others. Helping with prescribed fires gives me a chance to learn something completely new, not only the strategies for setting up a prescribed burn, but also seeing different leadership skills and styles and varying crew dynamics.

How have your education, background, or personal experiences prepared you for the work that you do now?

It has prepared me to be prepared, to adapt to changing priorities and various learning styles with co-workers/subordinates. Being a long way from home made me tougher by pushing through lonely and intimidating times, such as when I attended Choate Rosemary Hall High School in Connecticut and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. So being the “anomaly” doesn’t discourage me. With my culture and upbringing, I always look at my work with the view of, “How can I better tomorrow for the youth?”

Describe a recent, current, or upcoming project that you’re currently working on.

Helping to organize and coordinate a tribal youth Natural Resources Discovery Camp program for local high schools and colleges. The program puts on presentations and hands-on work by various program managers such as trails, wildlife, range, etc. We’ll immerse the students in the type of work we do to help them gain experience and decide on future careers.

Describe a professional or personal achievement that you are particularly proud of.

I am proud of helping to create an inter-tribal youth crew program in Montana. It was a partnership between the Forest Service and the Montana Conservation Corps. It was a very interesting and challenging season as the crew leader, but it was worth getting a chance to provide job opportunities to tribal youth.

Why do you think your field is important?

Recreation seems to be the first encounter with the agency that people experience. With our trails, recreation sites, forests and scenic byways everywhere, folks could be recreating and not even know it. That’s why our program needs to stay on top of maintaining the infrastructure for the busy seasons.

What are some of the greatest challenges confronting your field?

Having enough folks to do the work that needs to get done. Not only that, but the nature of our work as a multi-use agency can be challenging, as well. We serve a myriad of users within the trails program. It’s important that we provide satisfactory experiences to diverse populations who have differing perspectives and expectations of every single trail, recreation site, etc.

What are some of the most promising strategies being used by the Forest Service to address these challenges?

Building and using our partnership program to help us hear and work with the public through partnerships. Not only that, but also helping us get funding to get projects done with these partners.

How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?

That it may not seem like things are getting done quickly, but we are working to get them to that finish line.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?

Volunteer and work in seasonal positions to get your foot in the door. It may be tough to get in, but it is worth the time and effort. Also, learn to have patience and be willing to move around the country.

https://www.fs.usda.gov/faces-of-the-forest-service/meet-latasha-wauneka