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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : the villager : the villager August 28, 2014


3/27/2014 2:17:00 PM
Red Rock Ranger District welcomes new Ranger, Nicole Branton
New Red Rock District Ranger Nicole Branton welcomes all to the Ribbon Cutting for the Red Rock Ranger District Visitor Center permanent Interpretive Displays. Photos by Eric G. La Price, Forest Planner
New Red Rock District Ranger Nicole Branton welcomes all to the Ribbon Cutting for the Red Rock Ranger District Visitor Center permanent Interpretive Displays. Photos by Eric G. La Price, Forest Planner
By Dorothy O'Brien
Special to The Villager

The first thing Nicole Branton says about herself, when asked how she became the Red Rock District Ranger in the Coconino Forest is, "I grew up in an urban setting in St. Louis, Missouri and my family didn't share a big outdoor life."

Ranger Branton discovered her love for the forest lands and open spaces as an adult earning her degree in Anthropology at the University of Southern Illinois in Edwardsville.

As an undergraduate, Nicole sat in on a lecture given by a Forest Service Archeologist who was describing the ancient sites found on exploratory trips into the wilderness areas of Utah.

The adventure of the search, the discovery of such rich heritage and the cataloguing of these treasures to preserve their stories, sparked a deep interest in Nicole.

The very next summer, Nicole worked as an unpaid intern for the Ashley National Forest searching out and recording ancient sites. Spending school breaks and summer vacations on projects while exploring and enjoying the forest lands became a significant pursuit for Nicole.

She went on to work for the Illinois Transportation Archaeology Project through the University of Illinois and for private archaeology companies in Tucson, Arizona.

The National Forests and the immense expanses of wilderness had left their imprint on Nicole and she advanced to Graduate School at University of Arizona, Tucson.

There, Nicole "fell in love with the Southwest," where she earned her Master's Degree and then a Doctorate in Anthropology from the University of Arizona.

Ranger Branton's first permanent posting, as a United States Forest Service Archeologist, was on the Coronado National Forest in Southeastern Arizona, serving for the next 12 years on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland as Forest Archaeologist.

Always listening and learning, Nicole describes her experience on the Arapaho-Roosevelt Forests as a transition of working through Archeology towards Stakeholder Collaboration.

In her experience she says, "The process of collaboration and working with Stakeholder Groups verifies the values and benefits of all parts of a given situation."

Nicole's depiction of "Landscapes and places (artifacts, ruins) as important to peoples and cultures" illustrates her understanding and commitment to exploring all sides of an issue concerning Public Lands, drawing out differing viewpoints, valuing all and helping communities to arrive at stronger solutions.

The National Forests on which Ranger Branton has worked have managed and negotiated mining interests, energy industry concerns, restoration, conservation and recreation, to name just a few concerns similar to the Red Rock District.

Immediately prior to the Red Rock Ranger District, Nicole served in Washington D.C., where she worked on the Forest Service's Strategic Plan and was involved in bringing awareness and information to Congress regarding issues affecting our Public Lands.

Ranger Branton expressed the challenges she faces when trying to articulate and make relevant important actions like the National Scenic Area Designation or preventing overuse and inappropriate recreation activities on National Forest Lands.

Ultimately, it was a tremendous learning experience and a challenge Nicole thoroughly embraced to make these very important concerns relevant to our Representatives in Washington D.C.

Reflecting on her first few months as Red Rock District Ranger on the Coconino National Forest, Nicole states, "...that striking the right balance between people's access for appropriate recreational use, preserving resources and maintaining pristine conditions is a great responsibility."

Nicole's experience with diverse communities of Forest Land users has taught her many valuable lessons. Most notably, working with the energy industry and fuel reduction projects, she learned to, "Challenge people to be part of the process and be part of the solution. People have access to the land, love these lands and the vast majority want to be good stewards, so come to the table. It will provide a more satisfying solution."

Nicole explains that this is really her "dream job." All her experiences, her enthusiasm and passion for the collaborative process seem tailored to the current situation on the Red Rock Ranger District. Forest Management Plan Revision, National Scenic Area Designation, Multi-user Trail Planning, three million annual visitors and the Red Rock Pass would be enough for any of us, but Nicole Branton, Red Rock District Ranger, flashes a brilliant smile and embraces the challenges inviting us all to the table for strong solutions.

For information about what is happening on the Red Rock Ranger District: www.fs.usda.gov/coconino



Dorothy O'Brien is the Past President of the Big Park Regional Coordinating Council and Director of the Celtic Harvest Festival. She can be reached at festivaldirector@celticharvestfestival.com


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