News Release

U.S. Forest Service Names New Director To Oversee National Fire and Aviation Management Program

June 17, 2016 -

Shawna Legarza, who has earned more than 25 years of wildland fire management experience, has been tapped to serve as the National Director of Fire and Aviation Management for the U.S. Forest Service, Chief Tom Tidwell announced today. 

Legarza, who serves as the Regional Director of Fire and Aviation in the Pacific Southwest Region, California, will take on the critical leadership role to help create resilient landscapes, fire adapted communities, while putting safety and lives first in responding to wildland fire. The Forest Service has managed wildland fire for more than 100 years. While fire is a natural process necessary for the maintenance of many ecosystems, in the past two decades, extreme wildfire behavior has escalated, accompanied by significant increases in risk to responders, citizens, homes and businesses, as well as suppression costs and threats to communities and ecosystems.

“I have great confidence in the experience and professionalism Shawna brings into this vital role at the U.S. Forest Service” said Chief Tidwell. “Shawna’s leadership within the wildland fire community and the relationships she developed throughout her career make her the best fit for the job”.

Currently, Legarza serves as Regional Fire and Aviation Director of the Pacific Southwest Region headquartered in Vallejo, Calif., a Region that experiences one of the most active and severe wildland fire seasons in the country. Among many of her accomplishments, she led regional efforts to foster a respectful, discrimination-free work environment for all employees who serve in the fire program.

In her new role, Legarza will oversee the full suite of Forest Service fire and aviation management, wildland fire operations and improving landscape conditions through hazardous fuel reduction, and will advance efforts to create a culture of safety and improved decision-making for wildland fire suppression. 

Legarza said, “I am excited for this new opportunity and look forward to the challenges the Forest Service and fire management face today in light of the growing length and severity of our fire seasons.  I am honored to represent the U.S. Forest Service and lead the best wildland firefighting organization in the world. Thank you to those folks that have contributed to my career and educational experiences, I am very thankful."

Legarza launched her federal career with the Bureau of Land Management in 1989 as an engine crew member in Elko, NV. A short time later, she joined the Forest Service and worked as a hotshot crew member in Carson City, NV, and a Hotshot Superintendent in Durango, CO. She subsequently took on a number of leadership positions in fire and aviation that include District Fire Management Officer on the San Juan National Forest, CO, and Forest Fire Management Officer on the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California.  Further, she has represented the Forest Service at the regional scale serving on the California Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change, the California Wildfire Coordinating Group and FIRESCOPE.  She maintains strong cooperative relationships with the Regional and National Wildland Fire Community.

In addition to her fire experience, she worked at the World Trade Center 9/11 recovery efforts, Hurricane Rita and the Greensburg Tornado, with significant contribution to agency leadership curriculums in fire management.

Legarza earned a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Kinesiology at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and Doctorate of Psychology at the University of the Rockies, Colorado Springs, CO.  She replaces Tom Harbour who retired in January after a 46 year career with the Forest Service.

Legarza will be replaced in Region 5 by Acting Fire & Aviation Director Patty Grantham, Forest Supervisor of the Klamath National Forest. Grantham works closely on the national line officer team for fire and has received awards for her fire leadership in building community partnerships and in restoring fire-adapted landscapes. Grantham has worked on six national forests across the West and holds a bachelor’s degree in Forest Science from the University of Washington.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands managed by the Forest Service contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation's clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.