SQF welcomes Teresa Benson

By Elise Modrovich
Special to the Sun

Photo via USFS
Teresa Benson is the new Forest Supervisor for the Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument. Benson has been with the U.S. Forest Service for over 25 years.

When Teresa Benson was hired as the new Forest Supervisor for the Sequoia National Forest (SQF) and the Giant Sequoia National Monument, it was like returning home. “I started my career with the Forest Service in 1990 on the former Cannell Meadow and Greenhorn Ranger Districts (now known as the Kern River Ranger District) in the Sequoia National Forest as a Wildlife Biologist and Resource Officer,” says Benson. It was also cause for celebration from many in the Kern River Valley, who remember Benson fondly from her time here as she began her career in the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) over 25 years ago.

Benson’s journey, as both a preservation-minded biologist and a woman in a heavily male-dominated field, was one that could have been fraught with hardships and roadblocks. “In 1990, the Forest Service was going through some transitions,” Benson recalls. “The challenge with the Sequoia National Forest in particular, is that it served multiple uses: one being timber, but also watershed, preservation, wildlife management and a heavy recreational use. I was hired as a biologist to work for the district, but what was great is that the Forest Service also hired a lot of people with knowledge and experience who were very supportive of me and strong women who served as mentors.”

Two of those strong women mentors, Deanne Shulman and Margie Clack, who had pioneering careers with USFS, are still residents of the Kern River Valley (KRV) and even stay involved with USFS in their retirement. Shulman, the first female Smoke Jumper, works with the county and USFS on smoke management on behalf of the valley. While doing this interview in the Kernville USFS station, we bumped into Clack, who started in fire and later served in Public Information, in the process of digitizing decades of historical photos for the benefit of current and future generations to enjoy. “They both took me under their wings, showed me how to work with people around me, and how to work as a team.”

As much as she bestows gratitude on those strong female influences, Benson is also quick to laud the men. “I had strong, positive, savvy women, and men, too, who helped me when I started. There were some amazing men who wanted me to succeed,” she says, and smiles. “In fact, I married one of them.” Benson met and married her husband Andy during her initial 15 years in the KRV. Andy grew up in the Central Valley and also spent 25 years working for the Sequoia National Forest from 1980-2005, so he was well established when Teresa was hired to the team. “We had a very tight knit group of people here in the district and a tight community here in the Kern River Valley. We built neat partnerships and events. I loved it here. It was truly a team effort.”

Benson credits her early positive experience in the KRV with her longevity with USFS. “It was probably one of the main reasons I stayed with the Forest Service. I wanted to keep helping people and make a positive influence on their lives. I wanted to keep that feeling going.” After leaving SQF in 2005, Benson ventured to Alaska, where she worked in a variety of natural resource management positions in the Chugach National Forest, eventually promoting to the District Ranger of the Cordova Ranger District in 2009. She then served as District Ranger for the Hume Lake Ranger District in the SNF from 2013 to 2016, and followed that with a position as Deputy Forest Supervisor for the Tahoe National Forest in Nevada City for the last 2 years. ”Teresa is a proven leader,” stated Pacific Southwest Regional Forester Randy Moore. “Her years of experience in fire ecology, vegetation management, natural resources, and public land management will be a great asset.”

Now that she is back “home” in the Sequoia National Forest, Benson is excited to embark on this new chapter in her career. “I feel really fortunate. The journey has been so inspiring. You will always encounter things that are challenging, but it is so much easier when you have a strong team to support you. That’s what I want to do on the Sequoia now that I’m back. Build a positive work environment so that people love coming to work, love what they do, and have that translate to the public. I feel like the public is engaged and involved here and really wants to help us.”

The SQF currently boasts a multitude of recreational uses, and Benson knows it could have even more and its resources function more efficiently with a little teamwork. “There are a lot of volunteer organizations here that are interested in helping with the forest,” she says. “The trick is to organize all these varied groups to work towards common goals, utilize all these skills and abilities, and then monitor and track their progress.” Benson’s plan is to spend the coming fall and winter gearing up. “We want to have a person who does nothing but help coordinate the volunteer efforts, get a team together and prioritize it. Once we get organized, we can plug in the groups and really get things done. That’s my main goal: Give the public what they need from their public lands.”