Miranda Leconte, self-proclaimed U.S. Forest Service dweeb.

U.S. Forest Service “Dweeb” Miranda Leconte

Before 19-year-old Miranda Leconte asked the U.S. Forest Service for a job, she didn’t know the difference between wilderness with a little “w” and Wilderness with a big “W.” Three years later she spends her days as a ranger educating the public about her beloved Sierra Nevada Mountains.

On duty
“Basically, the minute I put on the uniform it was like someone flipped a light switch. It was intense – people automatically looked to me as an authority figure, someone who knew everything about the environment, and who had no life other than prowling around in the forest writing tickets and getting angry at people,” Miranda, shared.

Miranda Leconte, self-proclaimed U.S. Forest Service dweeb.
Miranda Leconte, self-proclaimed U.S. Forest Service dweeb.

The uniform of a U.S. Forest Service Ranger consists of dark green pants and a light green/khaki shirt. The air of authority seems to emanate from the stately patches indicating the wearer works for a federal agency.

A day in the life of a Forest Service employee revolves around educating the public on how to protect the environment. Inside the organization, there are many specialized areas.

“Last season I worked with or went to trivia nights with timber dudes, helicopter pilots, hydrologists, wildland firefighters, botanists, fire patrols and chiefs, fuel specialists, law enforcement, recreation techs, archeologists, wilderness rangers, social media interns, dispatchers and so on,” Miranda noted.

There only a couple positions that carry the “Ranger” label, but Miranda guesses the one most people think of is likely a front country recreation tech. They protect recreation areas and enforce environmental policy, which sometimes means writing tickets for littering or camping in areas where you shouldn’t be.

Miranda joined the Forest Service without a college degree. She was enthusiastic and eager, and so far the position has not just worked out – it’s her dream job. This unique opportunity doesn’t open up for everyone, though. The ranger recommends getting a degree in biology if you want a job with the Forest Service.

“It will put you ahead of the curve and give you an edge,” She mentioned. Volunteering with the Student Conservation Association or Americorps are also great ways to gain some knowledge and experience.

Finding the “W” in Wilderness
When she first started working with the service, Miranda quickly learned that little “w” wilderness refers to the forests, mountains and wild lands of the world. Wilderness with a big “W” is a much more philosophical being. This is the subject famous conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote about extensively.

You’ll find reference to him in a quote on Miranda’s Instagram profile. “Oh, I could go on forever about Aldo. He’s basically the greatest conservationist who ever lived in my opinion,” she gushed.

In her words, Leopold came up with the land ethic that discusses human relationships with the environment and how important our role is to respect and maintain wild lands. To Leopold, humans need to maintain a close relationship to wild places in order to care for them. This provides people with an understanding of the importance of each individual part of an ecosystem.

Miranda’s time in uniform and exploring on her off days have led her to work toward an Associate of Science degree to deepen her understanding of the environment and knowledge of conservation.

The third and fourth principles of the Leave No Trace philosophy are key guidelines she suggests all hikers and park visitors should know and follow:

  • Do not take anything that you find (unless it is trash).
  • Everything you bring into the wilderness should come back out with you. This includes gear, garbage, food and waste products.

The ranger spends much of her time sharing LNT with forest visitors. “There’s really no excuse for disrespecting the environment, and LNT outlines pretty much everything you need to know to be a good steward of the environment,” Miranda shared.

National Parks vs. National Forests
If you ask Miranda what is her favorite National Park she’ll shrug and share that she doesn’t work for the National Park Service but Yosemite is pretty cool. She receives this question all the time even though she isn’t a park ranger.

The difference between the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. National Park Service is one thing many people don’t understand. Even those who spend time in these federally-regulated lands are often confused about the roles of rangers and other staff. The National Park Service noted that the two types of land have different purposes.

The National Parks have a philosophy of preserving pristine areas and keeping them “unimpaired for future generations.” Some of the people who are employed by the NPS are called park rangers. Miranda, however, is a forest ranger. She works for the USFS, which manages multiple-use forests. This means some land within national forests is used for well-regulated logging, cattle grazing, recreation and mineral management.

People who get sassy about not being able to bring dogs or go mountain biking are typically mad because they want to do so in the National Parks. The Forest Service is much more allowing of these types of recreational activities. Is one organization or kind of land better than the other? They are too different to really compare. Your opinion will depend on what you want to do in these special wilderness areas.

Off duty
Miranda doesn’t spend all her time studying and in uniform. On her days off she enjoys yoga, cooking, Netflix and drinking wine. She also does a lot of hiking, backpacking and thinking about the environment.

“I guess my whole life is just a lot of free time!” She shared. Miranda also tends to dance to 60’s and 70’s music as she prepares food, which she claims helps her stay in shape. She’s also taken up photography, capturing big and little wilderness.

Off-duty. Bucks Lake Wilderness in Northern California. Photo by Miranda Leconte.

Miranda picked up her first “real” camera in June 2015. She bought a used Canon 5D and paired it with a Tamron zoom lens (28-75mm). She doesn’t consider herself a photographer, but even a brief scroll through her Instagram or portfolio shows she clearly has a talent.

“I just genuinely like capturing moments and places that are special to me and sharing them with others,” Miranda said, adding that she has always been interested in sharing her travels with people who weren’t as fortunate as her to grow up in the Sierras.

Her thriving social media following, currently 13.1k on Instagram, has led her to work with some big name brands. She’s “currently adventuring” with MSR, Deuter, Tentree, ORU KAYAK, The Outbound Collective, The Landmark Project, Stanley Brand and more. These unique partnerships are not common among Forest Service employees. Miranda’s knowledge and enthusiasm for the Wilderness, paired with her photography makes her a perfect brand ambassador.

“Most of my coworkers loathe social media and try to stay as off-the-grid as possible, and I don’t blame them,” She shared. “I just love educating about the environment and sharing my life with people. Eventually various companies started noticing me on Instagram because of it”

June 2015 Taft Point in Yosemite. Photo by Miranda Leconte.
June 2015 Taft Point in Yosemite. Photo by Miranda Leconte.

If you spot the Forest Ranger in a short-sleeved uniform, you may notice a tattoo on her upper right arm. It features three dark bands of varying widths in order of importance.

“The thinnest band symbolizes ‘body,’ the medium-sized band represents ‘mind,’ and the thickest band is ‘anima mundi’ or ‘world soul,’ the idea that everything is interconnected.” She chose their descending widths to stand for her being a conservationist, an environmentalist and a yogi.

Miranda wanted her tattoo to also represent Leopold’s idea, “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution to intelligent tinkering.” To her this means that every piece of an ecosystem is important.

“To assume that changing one part will do no harm to the rest is not OK. Body, mind, soul is an important yogi concept, but it’s also crucial to keep these things balanced if I’m to be responsible for playing a part in overseeing and conserving wild lands. Instead of my own soul, of course, I have the biggest band symbolizing the most important concept for me – putting the environment before myself. Only then will I feel balanced.”

Zpack sleeping bags. Photo by Miranda Leconte.
Zpack sleeping bags. Photo by Miranda Leconte.

You may spot Miranda in normal clothes at Taco Tuesdays or a local brewery near the Sierras. “I think I like to prove to people that although I rep an incredible federal agency and have the patch and badge, I’m also a totally normal person just like them,” She promised.

The ranger plans to spend at least 100 nights outside this year between the backcountry, back yards and more. “I’ll probably do it wherever I can if the weather’s nice,” she noted, stating that it’s a totally attainable goal. Her favorite places to camp are anywhere you can hike for miles. “The further from civilization the better. No front country campgrounds for me.”

“Wilderness is important to me because there is absolutely nothing like it… everything makes sense and is in it’s right place,” She noted. “I want that for generations to come, so I decided to devote my life to making that happen.”

Miranda’s book and film recommendations:

The Last Season” by Eric Blehm
Alone on the Wall” by Alex Honnold
I Believe I can Fly – Flight of the Frenchies” – Montaz-Rosset Film
Mile, Mile & a Half” – the Muir Project
180 degrees South” – Woodshed Films
DamNation” – Stoecker Ecological and Felt Soul Media
The Art of Flight” – Red Bull Media Films
Valley Uprising” – Sender Films

You can follow along with self-proclaimed “Forest Service Dweeb”:
On the Web – www.mirandaleconte.com
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/mirandaleconte/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/mirandaleconte
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/miranda.leconte

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