This Women’s History Month, we are excited to get to know more about one of the amazing women of North Olympic Land Trust staff – Land Manager Courtney Bornsworth. As Land Manager, Courtney actively oversees the care and maintenance of over 800 acres of land owned and managed by the Land Trust. On any given day you might find her wielding a chainsaw, building steps in a trail, planting a new sapling, writing a management plan, or troubleshooting a trail camera. With Land Trust properties spread all across Clallam County, the job of the Land Manager seems like a lot for one person to manage so gracefully. We sat down with Courtney to learn more about what motivates her as she cares for the land…
How did your early upbringing influence your choice of career?
Growing up in Metro-Detroit meant that I wasn’t really immersed in nature all that often. I was fortunate enough to come from a family who had some great trees to climb in our yard, and who spent a few weeks out of every summer vacation going camping “up north.” We would canoe, swim, and spend time in the woods to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life downstate. It wasn’t as glamorous as some of my friends’ vacations, but it sure was fun. I also remember spending a lot of time with my mom in the yard and garden, planting vegetables and helping with her landscaping. I believe it was the time I spent outdoors as a child that helped me develop a passion for the natural world, even though I grew up in the suburbs.
What are some of the other jobs you have had out on the land?
My first job out of college was as a biological technician for a fisheries group in Ketchikan, Alaska. I was responsible for taking samples from chum salmon to analyze their age and whether or not they were hatchery or wild raised. It was messy, but I loved it! When I moved to Washington, I spent two years working for the Washington Conservation Corps, where most of my work was focused on salmon habitat restoration. We grew native plants, prepped sites for plantings, installed those plants, and maintained sites into the future. This is where my passion for native plants really began; without the WCC, I don’t think I would be where I am today.
Once my two-year term ended, I was hired by Olympic National Park to work on the vegetation and restoration crew, specifically for the Elwha River restoration project. This job allowed me to continue exploring my passion for growing and identifying native plants, as well as collecting data and putting my science degree to use. I worked on this project for three years, until the funding ran out and data collection came to an end.
From there, I spent some time working with my husband, helping him grow his business. I worked as a consulting ecological arborist, which allowed me to work with trees and other vegetation, but in a more urban setting.
How important is it to you to work outside? Do you see yourself having a desk job at any point, or do you prioritize the time outdoors?
I love working outside! With my current position at North Olympic Land Trust, I do spend time indoors, communicating with partners, taking part in meetings, writing property management plans and forest management plans, among other things. I certainly value having an outdoor component to my work, so I can’t say as though I would enjoy having a full “desk job” in the future.
Since you work predominantly outside, do you spend your weekends/free time outside as well?
Absolutely. We live in a beautiful place, and I try to spend as much time outdoors as possible. I have a toddler and as of recently, a dog, so we try to get outside for a walk or bike ride every weekend as a family. We frequently take hikes at Land Trust properties together, including the Lyre and Siebert Creek Conservation areas. I also enjoy spending time working on my garden in the summer months.
What professional certifications do you hold? How common is it for a woman to hold these certifications?
I am a Certified Arborist and a Qualified Tree Risk Assessor with the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). Women are underrepresented in the Arboricultural field, although I do not know to what extent. After attending several conferences hosted by the ISA, I would say roughly 25% of the participants are women.
What is your favorite part of your work?
My favorite part of my work has to be the opportunities I get to share with our community members out on the land. Engaging volunteers in the stewardship of our properties and teaching them some new skills about how to manage the natural resources of our region is always enjoyable. Second to that, I thoroughly enjoy writing the property management plans for each new property we acquire. The management plan is our guiding document that outlines various goals for the property and how we plan to achieve those goals.
What are the challenges that you face balancing your career with family life? (Including being a working mom and partnering in your husband’s small business)
I like to consider myself lucky that I have the ability to work part-time with the Land Trust, leaving me ample time to spend with my family as well as help out with my husband’s business from time to time. It can be a struggle balancing work with personal life, so I make sure to seize every opportunity I can to be with my family. The biggest hurdle to overcome was making the decision to start working again when my son was only two months old. I knew I wanted to be around him as much as possible, but at the same time, I couldn’t pass up the amazing opportunity that was in front of me to continue my career in the natural resource management industry. Looking back, I am so glad that I chose the path I am on today where I have the best of both worlds; part-time work in a field I love and full-time mom to an awesome kid.
What advice do you have to women and girls interested in building their careers out on the land? What networks or resources would you recommend?
The best advice I can give you is to never give up! If it’s your dream to work outdoors in whatever capacity that may be, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Also, don’t be intimidated by the number of men vs women in the natural resource industry. Women in these fields are growing in numbers by the day and breaking social norms. One of my favorite quotes goes something like this; “Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women who have her back.” We have to support one another in our endeavors.
For young women between the ages of 18 – 25, I highly encourage you to check out the Washington Conservation Corps. This organization teaches you some valuable skills about getting into field work, even if you don’t have any yet. Another great resource is the Student Conservation Association. Similar to the WCC, this is another Americorps supported program focused on getting young conservationists into the natural resource industry through valuable internships with organizations across the nation. They also offer opportunities to youth under 18, which is a great way to get high school girls involved early on.
Why do you think it is important for women to work in careers like yours?
I think that the natural resource industry has been dominated by men for so long, that it’s time to break the stigma behind women working outside. The more people who identify as a woman who become active in forestry or arboriculture, the easier that will be. Women are passionate about trees and nature, and we deserve to be recognized for our knowledge in the field. Not only that, but increasing the number of young women in these fields is a great way to bring new ideas and perspective to old and outdated techniques. Together, we can bring great change and a more holistic approach to the natural resource industry for generations to come.