Leadership Corner

Reflections on a career

April 26th, 2019 at 1:48PM
Portrait picture of Kathleen Atkinson. US Flag and USDA Forest Service flag in the background
Kathleen Atkinson, Regional Forester, Eastern Region

As I finish my career with the Forest Service, belongings now packed neatly in boxes and door about to close, I look back and am filled with pride for all we have accomplished and thankful for the opportunity to have served alongside you. While I am looking forward to retirement, stepping away is hard.
Time passes quickly. I vividly remember listening to a coworker, many years ago, talk about working for the Forest Service for 30 years. At the time I was under 30 years old. I was aghast—how old was that person? How could you work that long? And here I am, with 38 years of service.
The agency looks a lot different now than it did when I joined. At that time, there were no female line officers. None at all. No female district rangers, no female forest supervisors and certainly no female Regional Foresters or Chiefs. There were very few people of color, and they were not in leadership positions. Those barriers began to crumble soon after that, but it was not easy. We have made great progress in becoming and embracing a more diverse workforce, but we still have a long way to go to more closely mirror society. We also need to focus our efforts on how we treat each other—each and every one of us, regardless of our job title or GS grade, has the ability to influence the work environment. Let’s use that influence for the positive.
While the agency looks different and has seen many changes, our mission continues to guide us. Throughout my career, in one way or another, I’ve always focused on sustaining the health, diversity, and productivity of our nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. What we have called that work has changed over the years, but as I reflect on our many initiatives over the course of my career, I’ve always found comfort in knowing that the fundamental purpose of the Forest Service has remained constant and is as relevant today as it was when I joined the agency. Though, I’ll admit, we do use more technology now.
The Forest Service is a great agency. And after spending the last six years as Regional Forester of the Eastern Region, I’ll admit that it is clearly the best in the agency. We have 40 percent of the nation’s population and congressional delegation. We get things done. While the West gets attention due to wildfire, in the East we fight forest health issues, partner with state foresters, and successfully deliver both the National Forest System and State and Private Forestry missions to millions of people. Everyone in the East should be very proud of the work we do.
When I talk to retirees, they say what you really miss are the people. I know that will be true for me. Whenever I traveled to a forest, I was blown away by the passion, creativity and dedication you all bring to your jobs. Hang on to that spirit!
As I close this chapter of my life, thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout my journey with the Forest Service. I will miss you all but am confident that the Forest Service is in great hands. Take care.