From Fairmount Park to the Forest Service
Growing up in Philadelphia, Tina Terrell, the Senior Executive for National Recruitment at the USDA Forest Service, loved nature, frequenting Fairmount Park and taking boat rides up the Delaware River with her mom and siblings. When Tina was in nature, she was in heaven. Tina’s mother, growing up on a farm in South Carolina, was not allowed to attend college but knew it was the platform for a better life for her children. She passed along a passion for nature, education, and Penn State football to Tina. Tina loved trees and nature. Friday visits to Fairmount Park allowed her to be “in heaven in nature.” When she was young, riding on top of a friend’s bike, the friend ran into a tree. Tina, though hurt, found herself more worried about the detriment to the tree over her wellbeing.

While encouraged to attend college, Tina was discouraged from pursuing a career related to her love of nature. Her start at Penn State in State College as an engineering major lasted briefly before Tina changed her major to environmental resource management. She knew she belonged outside. A mentor at Penn State, trying to bring minorities into the agricultural field, presented nineteen-year-old Tina with the opportunity to work for the USDA Forest Service at a summer research station outside Philadelphia. She was happy to have a summer job, not realizing the opportunity would propel her into a lifetime career that continues to fulfill her passion for connecting nature and people.


Tina sits atop a horse also leading a packed mule. Tina is wearing a uniform for the USDA.

Photo from 2014 Job Corps Courier


Manuals to Major: A Discovery of Forestry
Tina worked in a Forest Service office in Pennsylvania reading manuals until her supervisor invited her to travel to Massachusetts, where crews counted trees. Tina had to buy the “gear” of boots, thick socks, and a checkered shirt. With her construction boots from the army/navy store, thick cotton socks, and a blue checkered shirt, which she still has, Tina traveled to Massachusetts for two weeks and discovered her missing passion.

Hiking near an oxbow river and seeing its curves inspired Tina. The sentinel moment for her was seeing a white oak, sixty feet tall and twelve inches in diameter, felled and corded to collect data. Tina knew this was her future career. At the end of that summer in 1984, she changed her major to Forest Science. Through the co-op internship program, the USDA Forest Service guaranteed Tina summer employment until she graduated from Penn State and then a position within the USDA Forest Service if she maintained a certain GPA and majored in forestry.

The opportunity to pursue her passion for nature was an avenue to leave Philadelphia and State College, visiting “beautiful spaces and beautiful places.” In Tina’s dendrology studies, Professor Kim Steiner introduced her to Redwood and Giant Sequoia trees. In awe of trees so old and big, Tina knew she had to visit the West Coast.


Tina in Puerto Rico with an orchid


Forging Bonds: Nature & Stewardship
Tina has stayed with the USDA Forest Service through fourteen positions and nearly forty years. She focused on land management for the first ten years of her career before realizing the interdependence between nature and the social aspects required of her work for the USDA Forest Service. Tina believes that, in collaborating with communities and people to achieve protection and conservation of the environment, “the beautiful part is the journey.”

When Tina began as Forest Supervisor at Sequoia National Forest in 2007, the community around the forest did not trust the USDA Forest Service. A change in basic assumptions was needed to create communication and dialogue. Tina’s original goal was to stay in the position for two years. She ended up staying for four years, until 2011. She maintained the advanced relationships and initiatives that her leadership reestablished and enhanced. Tina takes pride in the Giant Sequoia National Monument Association that emerged from these collaborative efforts during her time at Sequoia National Forest.

Prior experience as a District Ranger at the Tonto National Forest in Arizona taught Tina lessons on recognizing that there must be a balance between community needs and meeting the needs of other users near and far from the national forest.” those of the U.S. Forest Services. She learned to navigate concerns over preserving prehistoric indigenous lands of the Salado Culture, uniting indigenous advocates with the USDA Forest Service’s mission of maintaining the sustainability and productivity of forests, grasslands, and associated water resources.


Picture from 2014 Job Corps Courier


Empowering Futures: Environmental Job Opportunities
Tina is also proud of her accomplishments working at the Job Corps program, first as Assistant Director and then as National Director from July 2013 to January 2017. With her extensive career in forest management, Tina ensured that all twenty-eight Civilian Conservation Centers at the time had natural resource-based and fire trade job training programs. Tina feels strongly that the Job Corps program, established by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 and managed by the Department of Labor, is a crucial resource for the United States’ underprivileged and underserved young adults. The program helps those unable to attain a college degree gain skills in career trades, learn how to obtain a job, and finish their high school education if needed. Her ability to engage and connect future generations to environmental conservation and natural resource management has left a legacy of access and attainability.


Photo from 2014 Job Corps Courier


Bridging Gaps: People & Environmental Policy
Tina’s passion for creating connections between the land, people, and related work opportunities correlates with her love for environmental policy. Working for the Forest Service in legislative affairs from 2000 to 2004, she developed connections with Congressional staffers, House Members or Senators in the U.S. Congress…” with the U.S. Congress in Washington D.C. While in her position, Tina worked on thirteen pieces of legislation that became federal laws.

Her extensive career path has required Tina to collaborate with communities, organizations, and governmental agencies. She believes there is nothing better than the American people taking care of and engaging in managing their public lands.”. Having their own words in planning documents and federal documents like environmental analysis reports or legislation creates ownership, authority, and inclusion.

Photo from 2017 Job Corps Courier


An important lesson that took Tina fifteen years to learn is vulnerability. She felt she could not be vulnerable as a woman in a male-dominated field. Since then, the value of showing her human side and being approachable has benefited Tina’s career. Through the last four decades, she has learned that the “Journey is the beautiful part.”

Tina heard a statement she now uses, “There are three stages of life: first we learn, then we earn, then we provide wisdom.” Anonymous

Photo from 2015 Job Corps


By connecting people to nature where they are, they can see the resources and opportunities available for work and enjoyment. Tina traveled the country, driving across six times, seeing remarkable natural sites, and standing on glaciers and other geologic features. As part of her life journey, Tina realized the Delaware Water Gap creates the natural resource texture of Philadelphia where her mom cultivated her love of nature, connecting Tina’s ongoing advocacy of nature on a national platform with her beginnings in urban Pennsylvania.

If you have stories of diversity in conservation or want us to highlight a certain conservationist or naturalist in or from Pennsylvania with unique perspectives, email [email protected].

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Written by Martha Moon, PPFF Intern

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Advocate To Nature and People: Tina Terrell and the USDA Forest Service