Learning the lay of the land

Yampa ranger brings experience, philosophy to Routt National Forest

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Growing up on a ranch in West Texas, where his family ran almost 1,000 head of cattle on three 26-square-mile ranches, Oscar Martinez quickly learned about managing land and dealing with natural occurrences such as serious drought.

Martinez's heritage includes his Spanish, Irish, Native American and French roots, a background he said means he has no choice but to be "open-minded."

That background, combined with 15 years working with federal land management in areas across the Western United States, have prepared 39-year-old Martinez for the job he took four weeks ago: Ranger of the Yampa District of the Routt National Forest.

Martinez is replacing ranger Howard Sargent, who left the position in September.

Martinez started his career while getting his wildlife biology degree, during which time he worked on riparian inventories throughout the Montana. He went on to work as a wildlife staff member in the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota, the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona, and the Ashley National Forest in Utah.

Then Martinez learned of the Yampa ranger opening.

"It sounded like an interesting place with interesting challenges," Martinez said.

There's value in working in different environments and in different states, he said.

"If you're well-minded and well-traveled, you're better able to be objective," he said.

Those experiences help people get fresh perspectives and look at good ideas and important issues, he said. Martinez has played close attention to different management philosophies at work, and then he "steal(s) the better of the ideas."

Philosophies that he has seen work and that he follows include managing land at an ecosystem level, which means he tries hard to put all problems, or challenges as he calls them, in a bigger context. Most issues the U.S. Forest Service is confronting have broad effects and so need broad solutions.

"The problem is still there, but we now look at that in relation to other things going on," Martinez said. "Basically, it's the consideration of more than one thing."

Another management strategy is adaptive management, in which a manager makes a change with clear objectives and then checks later to see if it worked.

While learning the lay of the land at the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland, Martinez is helping forest staff continue projects and ideas that have been in the works.

"I'm lucky," he said. "I inherited a great district."

A top priority is researching beetle epidemics in 70,000 acres of forest east of Yampa surrounding Gore Pass. Although beetles -- which mostly are infecting pine trees here -- cannot be stopped, they can be slowed down, Martinez said.

Other priorities include holding an open house for the Yampa District's new building and the renovated Bear River campground, conducting research on replacing the West Morrison Bridge on Routt County Road 16, and possibly proposing to enlarge gravel pits on Dunckley Pass.

The district also is considering fuel reductions in the Red Creek area and analyzing the grazing allotment in forest east of Toponas.

In all of his work, Martinez focuses on doing "a good job."

"That's really the only goal that I set, just to be transparent in our actions and do a good job in what we're asked to do: Caring for the land and serving the people," Martinez said. "That's what our mission statement is."

When asked why he does what he does, he brings up lyrics of a Journey song that talk about the joy of rediscovery.

"For me, everywhere I go, it's the joy of rediscovery. I've never been in a place where things didn't look new and awesome.

"It never fails to amaze me, the beauty that we manage. I just feel really lucky. I get paid to do the kind of stuff most people do for recreation."

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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