Words and photos by Miranda Leconte
In April of 2013, I landed my first job with the United States Forest Service. My life has changed drastically in the time since, and there’s nothing in the world that I would rather be doing than dedicating my life to than protecting the environment.
Over the years I’ve learned more about myself, the land, federal agencies, and backpacking culture than I thought possible. A huge part of my job with the Forest Service has been to educate the public about how to respect the environment, particularly that of the Lake Tahoe region in Northern California. Having been raised and gone camping in the Sierra Nevada mountain range my whole life, I thought this would be a piece of cake… until I realized that wearing the badge and patch put a spin on things. All of the sudden, people didn’t want me telling them how to do anything! I was viewed as an authoritative figure, and nobody likes authority. I realized that I had to make a difference.
I immediately began using social media as an outlet to display my adventures both on and off duty in order to show people that I’m a normal person who loves the outdoors just like them--and it worked. Instead of telling people what to do, I showed them what to do! On social media, I wasn’t getting yelled at, looked down on for being a female ranger, or ignored because I had a uniform on. I was on the same level as everyone else online. This is way better for everyone, and much more fun.
Once my Instagram profile kicked off, I was getting dozens of direct messages, comments, and emails every week from people wanting to know how they could play a part in protecting their environment. I realized how much of an impact I could be making if I put a little more effort into social media, so I began writing blogs and articles for various companies who asked. After that, the emails were pouring in. People telling me they got jobs with the Forest Service after seeing my profile and realizing it was possible, people wanting to know backpack tips, what gear I use, how to protect the environment, and so much more. My boss thought it was the funniest and most amazing thing ever, and he encouraged it!
While all of this was happening, I was spending two to four days per week in the ranger station planning backpacking trips for people and doing paperwork related to Wilderness, and the remaining three to five days on patrols in the Wilderness. People began recognizing me on the trail and wanting to take pictures with me! I had NO idea what I had gotten myself into. My main concern when getting into the social media world was, and still is, to spread environmental awareness, teach good Leave No Trace ethics, and help others to respect the outdoors… but it seemed as if something was missing. Were people paying attention to me, or what I was saying?
As we all know, it’s tough not to get lost in the social media world. It’s far too easy to forget why you’re posting pieces of your life all over the Internet. As an outdoorsy woman, it’s tempting to fall into the “my hair is beautiful while I’m bagging this peak, look at me and only me” type of routine. Not that it’s a bad routine, but it’s just not what I stand for. I have to keep myself accountable – I am not on social media to promote myself. I am on social media to help others respect the environment and enjoy the outdoors responsibly. I am a dorky forest dweeb who likes to take pictures. I spend my summers wandering around the wilderness making friends, helping others to make environmentally conscious decisions, and protecting the place I work, live, and play in. I want everyone else to remember that wilderness and wild places in general are essential to our well-being, and if people won’t listen to me while I’m in uniform, I’ll find a way to make it work.