To say that Tina Cason loves the forest would be an understatement. For the last 16 years, she has been with the Magdalena Ranger District of Cibola National Forest. As of Monday, she’s running the show as the new Forest Ranger, following in the footsteps of Acting District Ranger Nick Padilla and former District Ranger Michael Salazar.
Her new position was announced by Steve Hattenbach, Forest Supervisor last week.
“I am excited to have Tina Cason lead the Magdalena Ranger District as the new District Ranger,” Hattenbach said. “Tina has long been a member of the local community and part of the Cibola National Forest team. She will be an experienced leader who will help us in our mission to care for the land and serve the communities around the district.”
Cason said she was excited to continue the work her predecessors have accomplished.
“I started here at Magdalena as a seasonal 16 years ago, and have worked my way through the ranks to now being the Forest Ranger,” Cason said. “I look forward to continuing our commitment to serving the local communities and that includes conservation as well as building stronger relationships with our current and future partners through shared leadership.”
Cason is taking over just as the 2022 fire season gets underway. The current fire danger rating for the Magdalena district is High.
The Pine Park Fire near Datil which began last Thursday had threatened the Baldwin Cabin Library but was effectively contained at 32 acres by Sunday.
“We’re definitely in fire season now,” she said. “Fires are natural for the forest and we are going to continue to assess every fire and take management actions as we see fit depending on the circumstances.”
And that includes starting a fire to prevent a fire. In other words, a prescribed burn.
“Fires are a natural process for the landscape. And that’s where we as humans have not necessarily done well of managing,” she said. “There was a time where we wanted to put every fire out, and now we’re starting to see the effects of that, where we have heavy field loading and we’re getting these bigger fires. So, having prescribed burns, having the right fire at the right time of year, helps us reduce such a loading and able to keep our fires managed.”
Cason said the burns play an important part in maintaining the health of the forest.
“A prescribed fire allows fire to play its role in the landscape but at a more preferred prescription,” she said. “That is, a more preferred time when say, the humidity is high, when everything’s more at a level that we can manage better, than when it’s hot and dry or windy. It helps us to manage – hopefully – not getting the larger, more intense fires.”
Often the objectives of a burn are to rejuvenate decadent grasses, reduce wildfire risk, reduce tree encroachment into sacaton draws, improve watershed health and enhance wildlife habitat. Prescribed burning is one of the most effective tools to control vegetation, Cason says. By reducing the volume of vegetation under prescribed conditions, land managers mimic the natural fire cycle, which greatly reduces the dangers and risks associated with unplanned wildfires.
“We have two types of engines and a module of 10, so at all times we have somebody capable of staffing the engines,” she said. And this time of year when we have more predictions of fires – the fire season – then we start bringing on our seasonal crews who help fully staff our module so that we are fire prepared.”
These crews often take the opportunity to create or maintain fire breaks.
“We go in and do some thinning where we remove some of the fuels,” she said. “We either pile it and burn it, or we spread it out and do more of a broadcast burn. It helps to remove some of those fuels that would help keep the fire more manageable in intensity.”
One of the seasonal hand crews involve military veterans.
The Southwest Conservation Corps’ Veterans Fire Corps program provides training and on-the-job experience for post 9-11 era veterans interested in entering into careers and gaining experience in natural resource management.
“It’s been good for our vets to have this experience and training,” she said. “We’re glad to host it.”
Born and raised in Tucumcari, Cason learned ranching and conservation of the land at an early age.
“My dad was the ‘Matt Williams’ of the area. The windmill repair person,” she said. “I ran one of my dad’s trucks and he ran the other during my summer breaks. I decided I didn’t want to stay a ‘well man’ the rest of my life.”
Cason graduated from New Mexico State University with an Agriculture Economic and Agriculture Business degree, but to further her forest management skills, she went back to NMSU in 2006 to get her Range Science degree and was converted to a Rangeland Management Specialist in March 2008.
In 2011, she accepted the Magdalena District Range Staff position, where she continued to build her relationship with the local ranchers, partners and the community.
Just last year Cason served as the acting District Ranger on the Quemado Ranger District of the Gila National Forest.
All the while, she and her husband, Ty Cason, maintain a home on the Durfee ranch west of Magdalena.
“I met my husband Ty Cason at New Mexico State. We’ve both ranched and have lived in Magdalena for a little over 16 years now,” Cason said. “We’ve got two boys. They both love working on the ranch. Love the outdoors, the mountains, the ranching, the hunting. They’re currently going to school in Datil, but we’re looking forward to having them back in the Magdalena school starting next year.”