From Wilderness Ranger to Division Chief – A Wild Career!

Garry Oye started his career in 1978 as a Wilderness Ranger in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Idaho, USA. He worked for National Forests in Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and California, where his last two jobs with the National Forests were Group Leader for Wilderness, Rivers and Special Areas and District Ranger on the Inyo National Forest.

Garry recently completed his 36-year career in Natural Resource Management with the US Government, and is now retired Chief of Wilderness Division for US National Parks, where he worked his last 6 years out of the National Headquarters Office in Washington, D.C.

During his career, Garry has worked in Wilderness, both within US and with protected area managers around the world, and he would like to share his inspiring story and career advice with Conservation Careers!

Why did you choose to work in Conservation?

I believe that it’s important to not only enjoy the great outdoors and nature, but also important to leave this natural legacy to future generations. Wild places must be preserved for nature to operate freely, without human intervention. This conservation work involves gathering a collection of advocates and working together to save these remaining wild places.

Fall season on horseback with pack mules. Credit: Garry Oye – © All rights reserved.

Can you tell us more about the activities in your last job, and what challenges you faced?

My last job involved program leadership at the National Headquarters for the US National Parks. I was also involved in collaborative efforts with other protected area managers around the world. In the US, I worked with other Federal Land Managers in the US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to preserve and protect our 110 million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System. I updated National Policy for Wilderness, visited National Parks around the US to assist with difficult issues, and supported professional development opportunities for the next generation of conservation leaders.

How did you get your job? What career steps did you take to lead you where you are now?

I completed my degrees in Forestry from the University of Montana. After that, I started with temporary work, then secured a permanent position. Every 6 years I would compete for advancement and was successful getting promotions. In order to advance, I moved from various locations in the western US, including time in San Francisco and Washington, DC. I also completed four temporary assignments (120 days in length) to demonstrate my leadership potential.

Spring season giving Wilderness Education programs in local schools. Credit: Garry Oye – © All rights reserved.

What was the best thing about your job?

I have always enjoyed a connection to nature. I love getting to places and finding wildness. I also enjoyed working with talented conservation professionals and volunteers.

What was the worst thing about your job?

Securing sustainable funding for this important work is always a challenge. It is often very difficult to rely on Federal funding.

John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California Credit: Garry Oye – © All rights reserved.

What is your proudest achievement in your conservation career so far?

One proud achievement is that I had the opportunity to thank two people in person for the work they did to protect nature: Jane Goodall and President Jimmy Carter. It was an incredible honor to meet, and thank, these heroes.

Another of my proudest achievements is my efforts to recruit and inspire the next generation of conservation leaders. There are many individuals working around the world that I’ve had the honor of sharing work with. I am very proud of them.

Filming President Jimmy Carter for Official Welcome to the 50th Anniversary Wilderness celebration. Credit: Garry Oye – © All rights reserved.

What would be your advice to people who like to become involved in conservation?

Follow your passion! Ground your work in a knowledge of the resource & land; do not just rely on book learning. You must get out there and spend time understanding natural systems. And always search for like-minded people to work with. It’s always more fun to be a part of a high-performance team. And of course, never give up!

Leadership position with National Park Service: Division Chief for Wilderness Stewardship. Credit: Garry Oye – © All rights reserved.

Main image: Wilderness Ranger, cleaning up campsites, Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, Idaho. Credit: Garry Oye – © All rights reserved.

Careers Advice, Interviews, Senior Level, Celebrating Diversity in Conservation, Land Manager