Out of the trees
Art Currier followed his love of the outdoors fro nearly 40 years
After almost four decades of guarding the northwest's forests, Art Currier recently retired from his post as Lookout Mountain district ranger.
"It's a good job. I think it's one of the better jobs in the Forest Service because you're able to still work with the natural resources and you get to work with the people that get goods and services off the national forest," Currier said. "I enjoyed trying to find solutions to problems so we can still get products off the national forest and they're still available for people to use and enjoy in the future."
Currier's love of the outdoors as a child created the foundation on which he would base his life's goals.
"It was always one of those childhood dreams to work in the forest," Currier said. "When I graduated from high school, I went to Washington State University and got a bachelor's degree in forest management."
Following his dreams, Currier went to work for the U.S. Forest Service shortly after graduating from WSU.
"I started on the Malheur National Forest in Burns," Currier continued. "I worked on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The headquarters is out of Vancouver, but I worked in Trout Lake which is just north of Hood River. Before that I worked on the Mt. Baker National Forest and I worked in a little town called Glacier in Washington, which is just east of Bellingham, right up by the Canadian border."
While traversing throughout the northwest, Currier accepted a position for the Ochoco National Forest in the late 1970s. In the following 16 years, Currier became well-acquainted with the area leading to his position as district ranger.
"Rangers need a lot of experience in different functional areas and hopefully geographical areas," said Jeff Walter, Ochoco Forest supervisor. "To be a ranger, generally, you get a good cross section - you work a while in fire. Then you work a while in recreation and a while in fish and wildlife and timber. You take different jobs to give you a broader background."
"I became ranger in January 1994 here in Crook County," Currier said. "That was the year that we lost nine firefighters down on Storm King Mountain in Glenwood Springs, (Colo.) That hot shot crew, at that time, worked for me, so that was one of the first major issues that I had to deal with as a ranger. It was horrible."
While the crew had been carefully trained, after the accident Currier made a significant effort to always strive for safety first.
"Safety, obviously, became very important to me as a result of that tragedy," he continued. "So, I tried to spread the word, especially with young firefighters. They think they're pretty invincible."
"I think the big thing with Art is he just knew the balance of keeping up the morale," Walter said. "He was really accountable, personally and professionally. It wasn't just a job for him. It was a career. It was a passion. He took it seriously and had fun doing it. He was also really good for our younger rangers as a mentor and role model."
In addition to on-the-ground training, Currier was also a member of the Forest Service's Central Oregon leadership team.
"Art would be at the team meetings speaking for safety needs out in the field," said Sue Olson, public affairs officer for the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests and Prineville BLM. "In fire season, certainly, we're all very focused on any wild fires that we have going in central Oregon. Art would be reporting in on the status. Are people getting what they need to be as safe as possible, in terms of radios for the field and safety equipment? That's where I got to work the most with Art is when we had fires. I would go out to the fire camp with him and participate in the briefings out there. Making sure that people at the fire camp had everything they needed."
As the district ranger, Currier's position included keeping the lines of communication open between the forest service and the surrounding communities.
"He would be first on point to be visiting with the Crook County judge or Wheeler County," Olson added. "To make sure that the cities and the small towns out to the east of Prineville had everything they needed to keep their citizens informed of what was going on."
"That was the part that was really enjoyable to me - working with all those different groups," Currier said. "It was quite a change from when I went into the organization. I figured I wanted to be in forest management - out in the trees - but you find that you spend more and more time in meetings and talking with folks and less and less time out in the woods, which is where you wanted to be to begin with. You have to enjoy talking to be in the job and I did enjoy that."
While he still likes conversing, Currier is looking forward to having plenty of time with his family.
"My wife, Liz, and I are slowing down a bit. We have one grandchild and we're expecting another grandchild here in June. So, we'll spend more time with family and also do some traveling," he said. "In April, we have a trip planned to Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands. Then we also just recently purchased a motorhome to explore the West. Just a little slower lifestyle - take time to smell the roses and enjoy life."
Meanwhile Kevin Keown, a wildlife biologist, is stepping into Currier's place while the Forest Service finds a person suitable for the Ochoco National Forest Lookout Mountain District Ranger position.
"Those are very big shoes to fill," Olson said. "Art was levelheaded and knew the area well. The rangers are really critical. They are the people closest to the ground in the organization of the Forest Service. They are out closest to the ground in terms of projects and closest to the communities in terms of being right there in the towns where people live and where they are most affected by projects that are going on in a national forest."
"Art had been here long enough, he just knew the people and the community," Walter added. "He knew the land. He knew what the real issues were that we needed to tackle. He had the background and experience. He just had good common sense and a good calm way about him. He just did a tremendous job. He had the knack for it, making the tough decisions, but still getting along with folks and not making enemies. He was a good listener. He just did a great job. He's one that's going to be sorely missed."
Currier summed up the love of his career best when he said, "Our national forests are really national treasures and it has been a privilege for me to be in a position to manage those for the last 38 years."