Faces of the Forest Service

Meet Nathan Tillinghast

Office of Communication, USDA Forest Service
October 15th, 2018 at 2:15PM

A photo of Nathan Tillinghast standing in front of a law enforcement vehicle.
Nathan Tillinghast has been a law enforcement officer on the Carson National Forest since July 2017. Photo by Forest Service.

Growing up in upstate New York on the Northern edge of the Adirondack Mountains, Law Enforcement Officer Nathan Tillinghast found inspiration in the outdoors around him, which he loved to explore. He still enjoys hiking, running, biking, hunting, and fishing and believes that his early immersion in the outdoors ultimately led him to pursue a career with the Forest Service in 2008.

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

I have been a law enforcement officer with the Forest Service since July of 2017. I started my journey with the Forest Service back in 2008 as a seasonal forestry technician. For ten years I have worked for various land management agencies in vastly different geographical locations and roles. This experience allowed me to get a pretty robust view on how the public uses its national forests. This helps my current work in Law Enforcement to be able to see the issues that are important to a wider demographic of the public and makes it easier for me to work with individuals and their issues, rather than just be seen as a guy with a badge.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Hands down, being outdoors. The Forest is where people go to get away and enjoy themselves. People might take one vacation a year, and they choose to go where I get to spend every day. I think that says a lot.

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

My current position was vacant for quite some time, so I am working to build relationships with the community I serve. The area has a rich cultural background, and the people who live in the area depend on the Forest for their livelihoods. As someone new to the community, I want the public to be able to trust that I am working for them to ensure their needs are met in a sustainable way. 

A photo of Nathan, far right, evacuating a nursing home during Hurricane Florence.
Nathan, far right, evacuating a nursing home during Hurricane Florence. Forest Service photo.

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

During my time with the Forest Service, I have had the opportunity to be deployed on two separate hurricane relief missions. I think most people are familiar with Forest Service Law Enforcement working within our National Forests and protecting public lands, but it is a great honor to be able to help the nation in times of natural disasters. The Forest Service Law Enforcement teams sent out to these incidents offer a great deal of emergency response expertise to aid in these relief efforts, and I’m proud to be a part of that.

Why do you think your field is important?

Law Enforcement plays an integral role in the overall mission of the Forest Service. Obviously, we assist in the preservation of public lands by enforcing laws and regulations, but we do far more education than most realize. The majority of my contacts in the field involve just talking with visitors about the Forest or explaining our various rules and regulations. Most of the time, you can see that this instills a sense of ownership in the visitor. Most people value our National Forests as much as the people who work in them. They want to do right; they just need to be nudged in that direction.

What are some of the greatest challenges confronting your field?

To me, the biggest issue is staffing. I work with one other officer in a Forest that is 1.4 million acres. We have extensive recreation, wood cutting, off-highway vehicles, hunting, fishing, and various other activities on our Forest. We also work in an area where criminal activity from the urban setting spills onto the Forest. This limits the opportunity to do proactive Forest patrol. It’s frustrating to come across violations that have already occurred, such as green tree cutting, but with so much area to cover, unfortunately, most cases are handled after the fact.

What are some of the most promising strategies being used by the Forest Service to address these challenges?I think the Forest Service does a good job of encouraging the public to take part in the stewardship of their National Forests. Staffing might always be an issue, but if you can encourage people to take pride and ownership in the land, you can create lifelong stewards of the Forest. This stewardship ethic helps Law Enforcement staff by reducing the number of violations and encouraging visitors to report violations that they see.

A photo of Nathan Tillinghast
Nathan on snow machine patrol. He said that his favorite part of the job is being outdoors: “The Forest is where people go to get away and enjoy themselves. People… choose to go where I get to spend every day.”

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

In my time working with the Forest Service, I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t take pride and believe in what they do. I would like the public to realize that we are public servants and are invested in our National Forests. Forests attracts many different user groups, and I can sense frustration when speaking with visitors if they feel their needs aren’t being met. I want the public to view us as an agency that works with them in addressing these issues.

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

Patience and perseverance. It took me awhile to get into the position I hold today, but it is well worth the effort.