Faces of the Forest Service

Meet Nan Christianson

Office of Communication
February 4th, 2011 at 4:15PM

Nan Christianson started her new job as Assistant Station Director for Communications at the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Fort Collins, Colo.,in March 2010.  She has had some pretty unusual opportunities, which she considers gifts. 


What’s the one thing about you few people know?

I am a competitive horsewoman. I’ve been working with a young horse for a few years, and I believe this will be the year we can start competing. I enjoy nearly anything that can be done with horses. I packed in the backcountry for the Forest Service for several years, have always enjoyed trail riding, and am now excited about the chance to compete.


People have described you as interesting and unique.  Why would they say that?

Well, maybe I’m like a snowflake - I’m unique just like everyone else!

I haven’t always followed typical career paths or necessarily done a lot of traditional jobs so perhaps that has helped shape those unique experiences for me.

I’m probably a disgusting optimist, and I know at times it drives people nuts but perhaps that sets me apart a bit, too. I aspire to have lots of positive energy and use it productively, but someone else needs to judge how successful I am at that.


What makes you get up in the morning and go to work?

I’ll turn the question around: What could keep me in bed? Each day feels like a grand adventure to me and it’s fun to see what will unfold. Something new and unexpected always pops up, and I enjoy being in a spot to respond. My days rarely go according to plan, but nearly always good things happen.


What was the happiest day of your professional life?

Oh, wow. I’ve had so many. I would have to say that the happiest moment of my professional life was when we lit Montana’s gift to the Nation, the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, in Washington, D.C. That moment was the culmination of 18 months of hard work that incorporated the best aspects of any job. Opportunities working with wonderful people from our agency and from other agencies, organizations and individuals across the country were invaluable. We promoted exciting partnerships. We mentored folks who previously had limited opportunities to shine or to experience the world much beyond their home state; providing a truly emotional connection between the Forest Service and people in rural, tribal and agricultural communities in Montana.  We made challenging but solid resource decisions while solving problems and controversies.  We had a sense of accomplishment that comes with a project done well, and getting it done with an impeccable safety record. It may have been one of the most bizarre assignments I’ve ever had, but it was wonderfully satisfying.


How did you start your Forest Service career?

I started out in the Forest Service as a geologist. Over the years, I’ve worked as an interagency wilderness manager; in recreation, lands, oil and gas, and minerals; and with partnerships, fire, and law enforcement programs. I also coordinated National Environmental Policy Act projects for several years. After a decade in the National Forest System office, I received the opportunity to shift to State & Private Forestry. During the past decade or so, I enjoyed serving as a District Ranger, an Acting Deputy Forest Supervisor where I led fire recovery efforts following the fires of 2000, and the acting Director at Grey Towers National Historic Site. Now, I am thrilled with the chance to work in Research & Development.


What do you like most about your job?

I like being part of something that is worthwhile and that leaves a legacy that I can imagine my great-grandchildren appreciating. That is important to me. It feels good to know that maybe I’m making a difference.

I think that because I’ve been able to work with communities as well as with natural resources, it’s fun to go back and see some of the things I have been a part of over the past 30 years that are making a difference in communities and in the mountains today.


Who has had the greatest influence on you during your life?

My family – my parents, and now my kids, have had the greatest influence on my life.  From earliest memories, my dad got two weeks of vacation each year and with that two weeks, my parents threw three kids into a station wagon and we went camping all over the United States and Canada in an old canvas tent that leaked. Why on earth my mom and dad didn’t just take off and leave us for a week at a time, I’ll never know. Those experiences really helped shape my love of wild places and natural resources.

As a mom, where my parents left off, my kids took over in teaching and shaping me - and I’m still learning from them. They’re both in college now, and I know they’ll make important contributions wherever they end up.  But it pleases me that they are both pursuing degrees in environmental studies.


How would you like to be remembered?

Fondly.  I would hope folks can recognize that I added a bit of value along the way.


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.