From planting trees to studying climate, environmental manager helps protect nation’s forests

Meet Nathan Walker

From planting trees to studying climate, environmental manager helps protect nation’s forests

Nathan Walker, hiking near Sahalie Falls in Willamette National Forest. (Photo credit: Tracy Danielson)

Nathan Walker has always loved nature. As a child he would spend hours playing in the forest and streams, which led him towards a scientific interest in the environment. He received his bachelor’s degrees in both biology and literature from the University of California at Santa Cruz.

“For my first internship after college, I worked at North Cascades National Park, hiking out to work sites and planting trees. Everything about it reinforced my love for nature, and my desire to serve in an environmental career,” said Walker.

Knowing he could take himself even further, Walker next achieved his master’s in environmental management from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. Soon after, he discovered the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education’s (ORISE) U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Research Participation program, which he felt aligned with his passion for nature. He was also excited about the prospect of living in Juneau, Alaska, where he spent the first year of his internship, before moving south to Portland, Oregon.

After acceptance, Walker got to spend three years researching environmental data alongside a secondary project assisting the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Forest Service’s Office of Sustainability and Climate with new products. His data helped to chart future streamflow, snowfall, and forest carbon nationwide, among other things.

Many of the tools Walker helped the Forest Service build and publish were ArcGIS StoryMaps. These tools can be used in a myriad of ways, including as communication tools to explain scientific information to general audiences, or tools to summarize complex scientific data for more specialized audiences. He developed many of the StoryMaps here.

Walker explained the usefulness of StoryMaps in his field of study. “This work was designed to improve our knowledge of climate change impacts on Forest Service lands and to educate and inform the public, land managers, researchers, and partners on the issues in these lands.”

During his internship he was published alongside other peers in Ecosphere, in an article titled Cascadia Burning: Ecological perspectives on the historic, but not historically unprecedented, 2020 wildfires in temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, USA.

After finishing his internship Walker moved into the position of resource assistant with the same office. Later, he took on the role of geographic information systems specialist for the Forest Service Office of Sustainability and Climate, continuing to work remotely in Portland.

He believes his ORISE internship helped positively direct his career path, and he offered some advice to prospective STEM students considering an ORISE internship.

I would recommend ORISE in a heartbeat. It’s a great opportunity to learn new skills and get new perspectives on complex issues, to develop an understanding of how federal agencies work, and to gain experiences and connections that can be invaluable in pursuing your future career.”

From playing in streams as a child, to planting trees as a graduate and developing climate data for the USDA, Walker will continue his love of nature and serve the globe’s vast forests.

The U.S. Forest Service Research Participation Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture U.S. Forest Service administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.