[How I Work] Focusing on the groundwork for Colorado's National Forest

Published on: Aug 22, 2019

natl forest foundation emily update

The National Forest Foundation (NFF) is an independent agency chartered by Congress to restore and enhance National Forests and Grasslands, working alongside the U.S. Forest Service and other partners, both public and private. “I love everything we stand for and do,” said Colorado Program Manager Emily Olsen, who first worked for the NFF as a grad student. Now, she serves as the sole NFF employee in one of the nation’s most heavily-forested states. “I’m often the person convening everyone to move things forward,” said Olsen. “It’s exciting to have a role focused on the groundwork.”

My role, the short version: I lead programs across Colorado to enhance national forests.

My role, the long version: As Colorado Program Manager, I work closely with communities, nonprofits, and businesses across the state to dream up and implement projects and programs that improve forest health and enhance outdoor experiences. I’m a jack-of-all-trades, handling project planning, implementation, marketing and communications – the details for most of what goes on in Colorado.

How I got here: Originally from the southern part of Missouri, I moved to Montana for college, studied environmental conservation, stuck around for grad school in Forest Planning, and got a small side contract working with the National Forest Foundation on collaboration work. That was my first introduction to the NFF. After that, I worked for the University of Montana for a little while, then found my way back to the NFF’s Missoula headquarters, where I facilitated collaborative groups, webinars, and training for nonprofit staff and foresters across the country. Two years ago, I moved to Colorado to take this role. 

What the job requires: A high level of organization and initiative. Often, I’m working independently: I don’t have a staff here in the office, so staying focused takes initiative and follow-through. Relationship-building skills: Relationships are the basis for everything we do here in the state, so it’s important to keep them strong. Of course, knowledge of forest policy, natural resources, and public adminitration are really helpful. 

One way the NFF supports me: Though I work independently, I frequently lean on my colleagues to help me troubleshoot and brainstorm when issues arise.

My favorite challenge: Taking the spark of an idea – one of those “It’d be so cool if we could…” conversations – and making it a reality.

What keeps me up at night: The needs of our national forests today are immense, so there’s always so much to do. I’ve got ten balls in the air, and our forests depend on all of them!

The most fun I’ve had in this role: It’s always fun to get out on the ground and do good work with people. It’s the culmination of all the planning I do: the trail projects, the watershed restoration projects, and other implementation work where I get to interact with a lot of people and places I wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to – rural communities, trailheads, volunteer groups. I’m always looking forward to getting my hands dirty.

The National Forest Foundation was created by Congress as the nonprofit partner of the U.S. Forest Services, charged with bringing people together to restore and enhance National Forests and Grasslands. Visit their website to learn more, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube.