New deputy supervisor at home in Plumas forest
Plumas National Forest Deputy Supervisor Genny Wilson enjoys spending a lot of her free time hiking local trails and watching birds. Photos by Dan McDonald
Genny Wilson has been deputy supervisor of the Plumas National Forest for just three months. But she already knows the lay of the land — every square mile of it.
As a crew leader tasked with finding spotted owls in 1990, Wilson literally hiked through the entire forest.
“Our job was to find those gaps where people had never looked before for owls,” Wilson said. “We looked at the good habitat — older, mature forests — but we also looked at areas where people really didn’t predict owls. There were no constraints on where we could go.”
Thanks in part to her research as a biologist on the Plumas, and later the Tahoe National Forest, the California spotted owl is the only spotted owl not on the endangered species list.
As a result, the local forest is still managed locally with fewer federal regulations designed to protect the owl.
“That was a major contribution for me professionally,” Wilson said. “I take great pride in that.”
The 50-year-old mother of two grown daughters has excelled during a Forest Service career anyone would be proud of.
The Humboldt State graduate steadily climbed the agency ladder after volunteering for a manual labor job with the Plumas National Forest in Beckwourth in 1987.
Armed with a wildlife management degree, she gained valuable knowledge and experience at every post along the way. She became a biologist and wildlife program manager in the process. And ultimately a Forest Service district ranger in 2008.
When Wilson applied for the vacant deputy job on the Plumas National Forest, Supervisor Earl Ford had an easy decision to make.
“She prepared herself for this,” Ford said. “She knows the issues we deal with here. Genny comes right in and fits with the philosophy of this forest. I’m very glad she’s here.”
Ford said he relies heavily on his deputy supervisor.
“I see her as my alter ego rather than second in command,” Ford said. “I tell people ‘If you’ve talked to Genny, you’ve talked to me.’”
Ford expects his deputy to take the lead on many forest issues — especially fire management. Wilson has boots-on-the-ground experience in that area.
Before taking the Plumas deputy job, she was district ranger for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest based in Carson City, Nev.
Wilson was in charge of a large fire contingency, including a dispatch center and Hotshot crew. The forest was hit with some catastrophic fires during her tenure — including the 2011 Caughlin Ranch Fire and 2012 Washoe Fire.
“That was really tough,” Wilson said. “A lot of houses were burned and people died. Dealing with the victims really makes an impact on you.”
When Wilson looks at the Plumas, she sees a different forest than the one she knew in the late 1980s.
“The Plumas National Forest has experienced some really devastating fires,” she said. “We are going to change our gears and really focus on community protection work, after we get through with some of our fire restoration work.”
Wilson said the Plumas needs to deploy its millions of dollars in settlements from fires like the Moonlight and Storrie.
“That’s the No. 1 effort, to get all that restoration work done,” Wilson said. “And we have been talking a lot to the county about not just Forest Service people doing that work, but developing work crews and other opportunities to employ the local communities. … That is really important to Earl (Ford) and the regional forester.”
After two years of significant drought, Wilson knows the forest is in danger again.
“I think everybody’s scared to death about what this summer is going to look like in terms of the wildfire potential,” Wilson said. “Right now we are working to prepare, not just our folks, but the county and other stakeholders.”
Part of the preparation includes a June 1 staged fire response exercise with Plumas County.
Wilson said a series of prescribed burns over the winter, in areas like Mount Hough, have been helpful.
“We were able to burn in areas this winter where, in a regular winter, it would be covered with snow.”
Wilson called deputy supervisor a “nuts-and-bolts” position. Most of the planning and administrative decisions cross her desk.
One of her toughest challenges will be downsizing the PNF. The forest is losing a lot of funding with the expiration of the Quincy Library Group legislation. The bottom line will mean lost jobs.
“We need to make good choices, because we don’t have the budget we had,” Wilson said. “We are a pretty big employer in Plumas County. We are going to lose some positions.”
As for her own position, Wilson knows her stay in Quincy could be a short one. Many deputy supervisors are supervisors in training. They often leave to manage their own forest after a few years.
The Plumas’ former deputy supervisor, Laurence Crabtree, was promoted to supervisor of the Eldorado National Forest after just a couple years.
But Wilson said she plans to enjoy her time here. Although she grew up in San Jose, as the middle child with 10 brothers and sisters, she said moving back to Plumas County feels like a homecoming.
During her entire Forest Service career she has remained close to the Reno area. It allowed her daughters, Rachel, 26, and Teryn, 18, to attend the same school and have the same friends.
“I’m not the traditional Forest Service worker who moves every three years,” Wilson said. “I passed up a lot of opportunities because the timing wasn’t right. It was important for me to keep my kids rooted.”
The timing was perfect for her move to Quincy. And she’s enjoying her latest challenge.
“It has been great,” Wilson said, leaning forward in her chair for emphasis. “Everybody has been extremely welcoming, not just the employees here, but the community.”
When Wilson isn’t at work, she has several hobbies to occupy her time. She called herself “a frantic writer” and a “big-time sewer,” a craft her mother taught her before she was in fourth grade.
“Sewing is one of my things where I can get in my mode and just kind of take myself out of the world,” she said. “And I see a product when I’m done, which is really rewarding.”
Naturally, Wilson also enjoys being outdoors. She loves hiking, which often leads to her favorite activity of all — bird watching.
As her newspaper interview drew to a close, she grabbed her binoculars and took the reporter and co-worker Dianne Duncan on short bird-watching expedition behind her Quincy office.
“I love bird watching,” she said as she focused the lens on a distant tree. “I actually frame a lot of my vacations around this.”