Jeremy Fields honored for work
Last updated 12/19/2023 at 10:08am
Those who have worked with Jeremy Fields in his capacity as Sisters Ranger District's Special Forest Products coordinator, or in his work with the unhoused population in Sisters' forests, know that he approaches his work with exceptional dedication, and with humility and a high degree of respect for all.
His work was recognized last week in the U.S. Forest Service's Regional Forester's Honor Awards ceremony held in Portland. Fields was named Region 6 Employee of the Year. Region 6 covers all of Oregon and Washington.
Fields "takes on more than his job description," according to Sisters District Ranger Ian Reid.
While Fields' actual titles include Special Forest Products & Small Sales Coordinator and Forest Protection Officer, he also works with multiple nonprofits and other groups around the Central Oregon community.
"He's a really good liaison between the houseless community and other social services," said Reid.
Fields works with the Sisters Community Leadership Initiative to keep the Sisters forests clean, and with Deschutes County Behavioral Health and the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office to coordinate access to services and minimize and resolve resource damage and friction between the people living in the forest and the broader community.
Bonnie Rose, part of the Sisters Community Leadership Initiative team, told The Nugget earlier this year that, "Jeremy Fields... is truly a hero in his concern for the forest, the city, and the houseless in the forest."
His Forest Service colleagues agree. USFS spokesperson Kassidy Kern said, "He has done all of this with humility, respect, and dignity for our community partners, our forest users, and our unhoused population and is constantly coming up with creative solutions to this wickedly complex situation."
Big-heartedness comes naturally to Fields. He told The Nugget, "I come from a long line of givers. I've always been interested in problem-solving."
Fields' involvement with the issues surrounding Sisters' forest-dwelling population began as a solution to a very acute problem: He was badly injured on the job and had to figure out how he could continue to serve the Sisters Ranger District, where he's worked for 25 years.
A misstep in the forest at the top of Trout Creek Butte led to a catastrophic knee injury.
Fields recalled that he felt like Mountain Man Hugh Glass laying on the forest floor after being mauled by a grizzly bear - a historical event depicted in the Academy Award-winning movie "The Revenant."
"It was excruciatingly painful," he said. "The conclusion I had was that I'd never been scared before. I had never felt so stuck and helpless."
Planting contractors carried him out of the woods into an uncertain future.
"I'd gone from being a guy who could throw you over his shoulder and run up a mountain to I can't walk up the mountain anymore," he said. "I was worried that I was going to lose my job or be put in a job I didn't want. I didn't want that."
He started working on the problem of trash in the forest, much of it left by people camped in the woods.
"I didn't like just picking up trash," he said. "I thought, what if we got in front of the trash."
That meant working with the people who were camping in Sisters' forests - some of them recreational campers, many of them houseless and living in the forest on a permanent basis.
He began working with the Community Leadership Initiative on trash cleanups - and with forest dwellers on developing better stewardship practices. Helping people deal with their refuse keeps the problem from growing. The work evolved from dealing with trash to connecting people with social services, to mitigating negative interactions and friction between forest users.
Fields knows where all the campsites are on the Sisters Ranger District, and he interacts regularly with the campers to resolve problems - although he doesn't really approach the work from the "problem" end.
"I don't look at the problem," he said. "I look at the potential solution."
Deschutes County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant Chad Davis told The Nugget, "He knows all the players." When law enforcement contact is in order, Fields knows how to approach the issue and offers creative ways to resolve issues.
"It just makes the work easier and more efficient," Davis said.
Davis recalled a circumstance where there was potentially volatile conflict between a local resident and a man encamped along a popular trail. Fields resolved the matter.
"It was as simple as him making a suggestion to move the camp to reduce those negative interactions," Davis said.
"He gains compliance with people," Davis said, and he can do so because he treats everyone with respect.
"I think he's managing a very difficult situation in a creative way," Davis said. "He's got the perfect demeanor for working with people."
Fields said that resolving issues such as the one Davis described is possible because he's built a lot of credibility with forest dwellers.
"I build a rapport and use my credit with them to see that there's truth in what I'm saying," he said.
The people in the forest believe that Fields has their best interests at heart.
"Because I do!" he said. "That's the secret."
Fields says that he creates a "moral contract" with those he encounters living in the forest.
"This is our forest," he said. "If they're going to live in the national forest, there are some requirements."
Among those requirements is keeping a clean camp, which most forest dwellers strive to maintain. Some are less able to do so than others, and Fields and volunteers pitch in where needed.
Davis acknowledges that there is a balance required in the work between compassion and maintaining standards.
"When I first started doing this, I struggled with enabling, fostering, and adopting," he acknowledged. "I can't do that. Being honest, being real, giving respect - that seems to be what is helping me be successful."
Being honest and real means being firm when a campsite is out of hand.
"It's a mess, they need to be told it's a mess," he said.
Therese Kollerer, a Community Leadership Initiative and Forest Service volunteer, also sees that dedication to service in Fields' other work on the Sisters Ranger District.
"Jeremy is a genius at explaining a complex forest management situation - for example, Green Ridge - to a novice volunteer in a wonderful way," she told The Nugget. "He sheds light on many facets of the decision-making processes involved, and the interplay among them...
"Jeremy has a nuanced but clear-eyed view of the forest, and the many demands we as humans are placing on it. He seeks collaborative stewardship of our forest. He is a remarkable person, always offering inclusion and seeking input from others on a range of forest-related issues even as he himself brings decades of relevant experience to each situation. He is a great leader and listener. He acts with integrity.... Altogether a remarkable human being."
Lieutenant Davis considers the Region 6 award very well deserved.
"He's not the nine-to-five-type guy," Davis said. "He does a lot of things that people don't see that contribute to the community and make it a better place. He's kind of the epitome of the public servant."