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HerStory: Meet Gloria Brown

This story is part of a series highlighting the contributions women have made to the Forest Service. If you’d like to nominate someone to be featured in a HerStory piece, please contact Berlinda Baca.

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Gloria Brown was the first Black woman forest supervisor for the Forest Service. Photo courtesy Oregon State University Press.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Meet Gloria Brown, retired supervisor of the Los Padres National Forest and the first Black woman forest supervisor in the agency. Brown holds a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and Communications from the University of Maryland and studied forestry extensively at Oregon State University. A frequent speaker in local and national venues, she coauthored Black Woman in Green: Gloria Brown and the Unmarked Trail to Forest Service Leadership with Donna L. Sinclair. The book was recently released by Oregon State University Press.

Brown served with the Forest Service from 1974 to 2007, beginning as a dictation transcriptionist in the Washington Office and ending her career with two forest supervisor positions in a row. Though she had planned on being a reporter, her husband’s death in 1984 propelled her West with her three children in tow. Over the next three decades, she held a series of ever-more-responsible positions in Region 1, then Region 6, and lastly in Region 5. In every post, Brown worked to build relationships with coworkers and, as she gained more senior roles, with stakeholders. She strongly emphasizes relationships within and outside the agency as key to her success. “Every position: not only was it a relationship, but it was a learning opportunity,” she says. “If you think you’re doing something by yourself, I’ll be the first one to tell you: no, you didn’t. You didn’t get there by yourself.”

Brown’s first management role was as deputy district ranger on the Rigdon Ranger District, Willamette National Forest. Ultimately, Brown had to leave the Forest Service to become a line officer. She took a job as area manager for the Baker Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management. While with the BLM, she gained experience not only in mitigating agency/stakeholder issues, but in interpretation as well, through her management role of the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.

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That experience stood her in good stead when Brown returned to Region 6 of the Forest Service in 1999, this time as manager for Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, a strongly interpretation-oriented position. She at last realized her dream of becoming a forest supervisor in 1999 when she took over the Siuslaw National Forest. On the Siuslaw, Brown was able to put her long experience in building relationships to work addressing complex problems relating to watershed, resource extraction, and other intersections between forest management and use. Her final position with the agency was supervisor of the Los Padres National Forest in Region 5. She retired in 2007.

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Gloria Brown on the bank of Karnowsky Creek, Siuslaw National Forest, Oregon.

Brown has thought extensively on her role as a professional Black woman in a land management agency. The path was steep. When she first told colleagues she aimed to be a forest supervisor, Brown recalls, “knowing our agency like they did, they said, ‘There’s no way.’ Well, nothing better than a challenge.” Recognizing her own important position as a change agent and the sometimes intense opposition she and her family faced, she in turn credits Nancy Graybeal, acting regional forester for Region 6, and Elaine Zielinski, Bureau of Land Management state director for Washington and Oregon, as women mentors who played a critical role in her own career advancement.

They saw the potential that I had, and they let me stand on their shoulders as I tried to pursue that career,” she says. “And they always had my back.” Brown hopes that she, in turn, can have an impact on future generations.

Read and listen to Brown's full interview.

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