The Case of the Missing Women Forest Service Station Directors

Barbara Weber, first woman Station Director, PSW Station 1991

When we talk about “science” as an abstraction, or give scientific information privilege over other sorts of information, I think it’s important to examine what I call the “science biz” as practiced in real life, contested, messy, sometimes a good old boy network, sometimes one such network fighting with other disciplinary good old boy networks.. including, ideas like my discipline is cooler than yours..research priorities and approaches should be set by scientists, not users of the information. Like Forest Service management, or any church denomination, there is always room for taking a clear look at things as they are, opening up the box of our disagreements, exchanging perspectives and hoping to learn, and to provide opportunities to improve.

Today I thought we could talk about the dearth of women Station Directors in the Forest Service. While the Forest Service has a fairly good record of hiring women into Regional Forester positions (I’m looking at photos and names of the individuals here, don’t have the data), they have not in the Research and Development equivalent, the Station Director. Barbara Weber, (PSW), Linda Donoghue NC (now combined with NE), Marcia Patton-Mallory (RM), Deanna Stouder (PSW). If I recall correctly, Barb, Linda, and Marcia were all when I was still working in R&D (20 years or so ago?).

The last I looked, there were zero out of five and had been for a while. PNW is currently open, so that is a future possibility.

Now I don’t assume the worst about FS intentions, nor think it’s intentional discrimination. So here are a couple of hypotheses:

(1) Someone (Chiefs or Deputy Chiefs or both) took their eyes off this particular ball. Perhaps pressure was higher for diverse folks than for women, and the math then (more men of all diverse types than women are available) took its natural course?? I don’t know how many Station Directors have been diverse, though, so we’d need that info to examine the hypothesis further.

(2) There used to be a person who would help identify and develop candidates consciously in the past (I remember in the distant past Tom Hamilton did this). This is, perhaps, not part of someone’s job anymore so it’s a free-for-all. (But why would women lose out in a free-for-all?)

(3) Women in research don’t want the jobs or can’t move. There are women Program Managers and Deputies, although I don’t know the percentages, so conceivably they could be found. Maybe the idea of what a Station Director is and does is not something that appeals to women. Either through reality or about our conceptions of what it is like. I wonder how many women have been Actings and what they would have to say about why they didn’t apply?

(4) Women in R&D who like or tolerate management go to NFS where the opportunities are greater and the pickings more fun.

Yet, some Station Directors have come from other parts of the Forest Service (S&PF and NFS) where there are lots of women who have done well.

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Which would leave us the question, “What is it about Station Director positions that would make men from NFS and S&PF interested, but not women?” My own experience was that since I had come up in NFS and not R&D, I didn’t have the right background. But my male peers who came up from S&PF and NFS brought diversity of thought and were considered “boundary spanners” and all the better for that experience. Hopefully this has changed.

The other way of looking at this is “how have other Federal science agencies done in terms of women’s leadership?”. HOw does the FS compare? There might be a comparative study out there. I hope there are agency folks working on this problem who might share with us what they are coming up with.

Honestly, I continue to by mystified, hence the title of this post. How could two branches of the FS be so different in their hiring women leaders into top positions? What other hypotheses and experiences are out there?

Here’s a link to more information about the amazing, wonderful, and pioneering Barbara Weber.

8 thoughts on “The Case of the Missing Women Forest Service Station Directors”

    • Thanks AP! Do you know how many WO R&D Directors have been women? There were none, as I recall, when I left WO R&D in 2003-ish. I was actually Acting Director of Wildlife, Watershed, and Air Research for a period. (Pickings must have been slim ;)…)

      For non-FS people.. in FS culture, WO Directors, (NFS, R&D and S&PF) have generally not been considered at the same level as line officers (Station and Area Directors and Regional Foresters). In line organizations, the WO Director’s job is to support the Deputy Chief and are considered staff (albeit high-ranking) while RFs and Station Directors work directly for the Chief Here is a link to a description of line and staff organizations in general

      It’s complicated, but to (over?) simplify, in terms of NFS, the Chief, Regional Foresters, Deputy Regional Foresters, Forest Supervisors and District Rangers count a lot. Everyone else, less so. In terms of R&D, Station Directors and Project Leaders. Not sure where Program Managers fit.

  1. Ann Bartuska. But she didn’t last long. I think the bigger worry really is the willingness of USFS to bring in non R&D folks as station leadership, folks such as Michael Rains. I witnessed a poor understanding on his part of what research is, how it was supposed to contribute, science culture, etc.

    • Thanks, FW, I remember Ann being Deputy Chief but not Station Director. Do you remember what station that was and what time period? Michael was/is absolutely brilliant at securing funds for research and playing budget games (IMHO). I’ve heard more sciency Station Directors criticized for not bringing in enough money to scientists (even ones that pursue topics only of interest to themselves..). Maybe women have sussed out that there’s a “darned if you do, darned if you don’t” factor at work…

  2. What little I know/have learned about R&D is that it is a very different culture within the Forest Service. I also think it speaks to the larger issue of female scientists and their struggle to find legitimate recognition in the overall science field. It appears that sexism is most prominent in the science field and that has a dampening effect on women being considered for what are extremely limited Station leadedship roles.

    Fortunately, I have had the pleasure of working with brilliant women in R&D, but whether they are “worthy of leadership roles in R&D remains to be seen.

  3. No you are right – Ann was deputy chief, but never a station director. My bad.

    Gotta disagree with Rains being good at getting money. He spent his time deconstructing the traditional sivliculture, wildlife, hydrology, etc. units and moved salary savings into his creation of urban labs in Brooklyn, Philly and Baltimore (outside the mission of USFS). Not sure he was responsible for any station budget increase. He turned away DOE support that would have stood up several climate and tree physiologist positions. His support of experimental forests was tepid. He failed to capitalize on considerable ear-marks that would have set up a post surface-mining unit in Ohio when that was from a reforestation and water quality sense, all the rage. He merged units that had no logical fit together. Partnerships with national forests suffered and partnerships with forest industry evaporated. Of course, during that period, things were even worse in the SRS whereby the station culture turned into a Lord of the Flies intra-station scientist to scientist competition for resources.


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