SITKA — The incoming Sitka District ranger began his career with the U.S. Forest Service as a volunteer college student in a summer job improving fish habitat on Prince of Wales Island.
“I thought, this is the coolest thing ever,” said Perry Edwards, who will move into the district ranger post on July 28. “I was a kid who played with water.”
Soon afterward he found out about all the career opportunities available with the Forest Service all over the country. He was amazed. “You mean you can get paid to do this? You’ve got to be kidding me.”
He never looked back, traveling between Idaho, California, Oregon and ending up in Alaska. He has been on the staff of the Sitka Ranger District since 2005, the Daily Sitka Sentinel reported.
Edwards, 47, will replace Carol Goularte, who has been Sitka District Ranger for more than a decade, and who is moving into the Tongass Forest Supervisor’s office heading up recreation, lands, minerals, heritage and wilderness for the Tongass.
Like Goularte, Edwards is extremely enthusiastic about the U.S. Forest Service.
“I’ve been a company man in the Forest Service, and the Forest Service has been my company for over 20 years now,” Edwards said. With his appointment as district ranger he is realizing a longtime ambition.
“It’s been an objective from a career standpoint of mine,” he said. “It’s been a goal.”
He had a chance to try out the job when he served as acting district ranger at Thorne Bay for four and a half months last year, following the sudden death of District Ranger Kent Nicholson. Edwards found it was a good fit for him and his skills.
“It was a fantastic experience dealing with a group of folks. Talented folks,” Edwards said. “It gave me an incredible experience.”
Edwards learned in early May that he had been selected to be the Sitka District ranger, but he had to sit on the information for a few days before it was announced.
“It was tough not to explode,” he said.
Within an hour and a half of the announcement, the word was out, and he was receiving messages of congratulations from all over the agency and community.
“I’m so excited and honored,” he said. “I’m really excited I got to this point in my career. It’s my dream, my goal, my objective was to be district ranger, and I didn’t want to leave Sitka.”
Edwards’ career has been mainly focused in fisheries and wildlife biology until he moved into a supervisory role in 2010. He currently supervises eight employees, and is in charge of program management of silviculture, timber, watershed, fisheries, wildlife, subsistence and botany (invasives) for the Sitka Ranger District. As district ranger he will supervise an office of 25.
Edwards studied a number of subjects before finding biology at The Ohio State University. He remembers thinking, “This is it. This is cool.’ It’s hard, it’s challenging, and something I actually cared about learning. I wanted to figure out how it all worked. That made all the difference in the world.”
Edwards received his bachelor of science degree in 1990 from Ohio State, majoring in wildlife management. His first job with the Forest Service was as fisheries technician in the Clearwater Ranger District of the Nez Perce National Forest in Idaho, from 1995 to 2000. For the next five years he was fisheries biologist in the Blue Mountain Ranger District of the Malheur National Forest in Oregon.
Edwards then moved to Sitka and the Tongass National Forest, where he has held the jobs of fisheries and wildlife biologist, and his current post in ecosystem management.
“I read Jack London, and I was infatuated with Alaska,” he said. He said it’s rare to be promoted to the position of ranger from within the same district. Usually you have to “move on to move up.” That wasn’t the case here.
Edwards has now lived in Sitka longer than any other home, and was pleased that the opportunity for becoming district ranger was possible, without having to leave.
“Sitka felt like such a great community,” he said.
Edwards said he enjoys taking on new challenges, and has been successful each time he has tried something new.
“I figure stuff out and think, ‘What’s the next challenge?’” Edwards said. “I always feel I excel at whatever it is, then it’s, ‘Where do I go from here?’”
Among his goals for the future in the 1.6-million-acre Sitka Ranger District is to be able to tell the story of Forest Service activities here, and reach a wider audience. The other goal is to “keep what we have” while facing ongoing budget pressures.
“The recreational budget on the Tongass is really struggling,” Edwards said. “We know how important that is to Sitka for you to hike to your favorite cabin or your favorite trail.”
He said he is also excited to get beyond the day-to-day details and into creating a “strategic vision.”
“I’m so excited to be here in my dream job, my dream location,” he said. “I’m excited about the things that are going to happen.”
Don Martin, aquatic and fishery program leader for the Forest Service in Alaska, will continue as acting ranger until Edwards takes over July 28.
Edwards is active in a number of community organizations, including as a board member for KCAW-FM, and banquet committee member for Ducks Unlimited. He is married to Michelle Putz, who works in the recreation department for the Tongass Forest Supervisor’s office.