What’s an Archeologist Doing in the Forest Service?

Cibala National Forest in New Mexico. Photo by Kristina M. Hill.

What does one do after graduating with a master’s in archeology if you won’t be going into academia? Well, for me, I lucked into a new internship program between the US Forest Service and the Greening Youth Foundation specifically designed to train recent graduates to become professionals in various areas of public lands management. Five days after my last day as an intern, I started my first permanent position with the Forest Service, as a zone archeologist.

Something I hadn’t realized prior to my internship was just how much goes into managing public lands. I was also unaware of how many people have never heard of the Forest Service!

For those that are unaware of what the US Forest Service is (don’t worry, you are not alone), I thought I should start with a brief history (you can see a more thorough history here). The United States Forest Service was started by President Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot in 1905 during a time of massive, unchecked deforestation. While other public land management agencies are within the Department of Interior, the Forest Service is part of the Department of Agriculture. This separation was due to a difference in purpose and philosophy. The National Park Service was formed for the purpose of keeping the parks in a state for people to enjoy the landscape as is for generations to come. The Forest Service was formed so that the national forests and grasslands could be forested and grazed while conserving them for future generations.

President Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot on the Mississippi. Photo taken from PBS’ Faces of the Big Burn gallery.

Archeologists were brought into public land management agencies in the 1970s, when archeology became mandated by law through cultural resource management laws (also known as CRM). The National Historic Preservation Act made it so anytime federal dollars are expended, an archeological survey must be conducted to determine how the project will affect cultural resources.

This is where I come in! Essentially, as the zone or district archeologist, my job is to work with the other shops to review their projects and make sure we avoid disturbing archeological sites. I am also responsible for taking these project plans and consulting with any interested entities so they know we are protecting the cultural resources within our public lands. I also get to work with academics so they can conduct more detailed studies of the sites on my district, and give presentations to public groups.

Over the course of the next few months my employees and I will be wrapping up field work and writing up the report for one survey, starting field work on another survey, and consulting on smaller projects. I also have at least one presentation coming up at a grade school. Part of my job also requires me to learn several other skills; so in addition to the projects previously mentioned, I plan to blog about my learning process for anything from illustrating artifacts to learning about the specifics of fire as a management tool, from maintaining recreation facilities to improving wildlife habitats.

Civilian Coservation Corps structure along a trail on the Ozark National Forest. Photo taken by Kristina M. Hill.

I’m excited to participate in this project! I hope this blog will not only illustrate all the cool things I get to do and see, but also possibly inspire you to go explore your local national forest or grassland!

In my next post, look forward to learning about my internship on the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas. After that, I will start getting into what life has been like on the Ouachita National Forest.

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