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Bristlecone forest manager nominated for national award

September 13, 2012

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Manager Louth (center) literally puts his back into Schulman Grove Visitor Center reconstruction in October 2008. A hands-on collaborator, Louth is known by his staff and his superiors to lead by example. Photo by Marilyn Blake Philip

A long-time, local proponent of Inyo National Forest conservation and interpretation has been nominated for a prestigious, national award for his expertise and public service.
Less than a week after the grand opening of the new Schulman Grove Visitor Center in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Interpretive Specialist John Louth was nominated for the Gifford Pinchot Excellence in Interpretation and Conservation Education award for his work in the development of the center’s exhibits.
USFS Press Officer John Heil said Louth, the nominee for the Pacific Southwest Region, is one of only nine interpretive specialists to be honored with a nomination nationwide.
The nomination, organized by Diana Pietrasanta, acting district ranger for the White Mountain and Mt. Whitney Ranger districts and acting forest recreation and lands staff officer, also recognizes Louth’s 20-year career of sharing outstanding interpretive skills with the public and myriad organizations through exhibits, brochures, programs and even film.
“John has spearheaded an exemplary array of interpretive media and recreation experiences reaching all levels of visitors who come from around the globe to learn about the ancient trees,” states the nomination.
Louth serves as both the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest manager and director of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest’s Schulman Grove Visitor Center and Public Lands Information Center at the White Mountain Ranger Station in Bishop.
The Pacific Southwest Region has 17 forests, said Pietrasanta, and there are nine national USFS regions so Louth is among nine nominees from a large pool of interpreters, all waiting to hear who will receive the national award. The winner will be announced the week before Thanksgiving at the annual National Association for Interpretation Conference. Louth has been through the process before with his first nomination in 1998.
If Louth wins, it will be the second win in a row for Region 5. Los Padres National Forest Visitor Information Assistant Jennifer Gray won the 2010 Gifford Pinchot Excellence in Interpretation and Conservation Education for raising community awareness of the Forest’s vast natural and cultural resources.
As Louth tells it, the nomination came just by doing what he loves.
“My passion is connecting people to this unique natural resource, i.e., the bristlecone pines,” said Louth. “and interpret it in a different way than people expect when they go up there.
“There’s a lot more to these trees than being old and beautiful. They are the center of significant climate research,” explained Louth. “I interpret their unknown and complicated stories the way a foreign language translator does. That’s the art and essence of interpretation, to get the exhibits to engage visitors, to get them to understand.”
Louth acknowledged the contributions of his “excellent” Schulman Grove Visitor Center information staff.
“He has a great knack for coaching and assisting others to learn the art of interpretation,” states the nomination. Louth cares a lot about the people who work for him, insisting on high quality public service from them, He coaches both his employees and “other outside entities (and) has helped people to use the ‘multiplier’ effect of spreading the word about what we all can do to help ‘care for the land’ and recreate responsibly.”
Louth’s list of collaborative achievement is long, including work with: Big Pine Paiute Tribe, American Mule Museum, Friends of the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery and Placerville’s Forest Genetics Lab. Louth lent his expertise to Big Pine Chamber of Commerce’s Cal Expo state fair exhibits. There’s also the Scenic Byway Project of the Coalition for Unified Recreation in the Eastern Sierra “exhibit panels located at viewpoints all the way from Little Lake to Topaz,” said Louth.
The interpretive specialist also worked on the exhibit panels that visitors and locals see in front of the White Mountain Ranger Station on Main Street. And Louth has also worked extensively on many Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association projects.
Touching the future, Louth has worked with Healthy Communities of Southern Inyo County for the past few summers, developing programs that instill camping, hiking, fishing and exploring skills in local youth, especially in local Hispanic communities. The nomination states that, for 20 years now, Louth has provided elementary school kids with an archaeology program, “sparking their curiosity and helping them to understand this amazing career field and about the cultural resources that deserve protection … how their actions do make a difference.”
Louth collaborated on the “Junior Explorers Activity Guide” an interactive booklet and designed The More Kids in the Woods programs “to promote the great outdoors to kids to get them outside and active in public lands settings,” said Louth. These programs vary year-to-year, presentation locations at the White Mountain Ranger Station, in campgrounds and so on.
Louth was also the executive producer of the 2002 documentary, “Living History,” about the history, significance and life of bristlecone pines. “The whole role of climate change and global warming has changed in 10 years,” said Louth, so he has another iron in the fire. It will take about three years to produce a new documentary to include updated topics, additional presenters and new technology such as HD and wide screen.
Louth hasn’t confined his efforts to local landscape, either. On his own time, as a Friends of the Himalayan Sherpa People board member, Louth, in partnership with wife Nancy Upham, “who is an excellent interpretive writer,” will be researching, designing, arranging fabrication and securing funding for all-new interpretive exhibits at the Chitwan National Park visitor center in Nepal – about 7,613 miles from Bishop.
Louth’s way of “viewing the world with a ‘glass half full’ attitude allowed him to get his act together the day after the old Schulman Grove Visitor Center was burned,” states the nomination. Within days, Louth had a temporary single-wide replacement facility hauled up to the 10,010-foot location. Then he began plans for the new visitor center, to permanently “redeem our responsibility of interpreting this great natural treasure to the public.”
This brings up one of Louth’s biggest achievements – the exhibit planning and design for both the 1996 and 2012 Schulman Grove Visitor Centers.
Four years ago, Louth embarked on what he describes as an exceptionally close collaboration with Rosene Creative Services of Jaspar, Ga. to design the new visitor center. Louth wrote the interpretive plans, which cover the big picture – trees, flora, fauna, geography, dendrochronology and history, he explained. Then, “I narrowed them down and worked with Rosene on a nearly daily basis on the design and content of exhibits to insure that they are the type of exhibits visitors want to see and make sure they are scientifically accurate,” said Louth.
He has a flexible, creative way of “stretching the envelope for all involved,” exploring methods, states the nomination. His design efforts inspire an emotional connection through the use of art and creative design, including touch-screen technology and audio for the visually impaired.
Leader-of-the-pack Louth included a special room in the new visitor center to accommodate visiting researchers and their tools and documents. This also allows the public to gain a more comprehensive understanding of contemporary research through interaction with scientists. “A tremendous amount of research is going on in the White Mountains where the ancient trees are located … in regards to climate change (and) the array of impacts and management challenges and opportunities that climate change will bring,” states the nomination.
Numerous officials have echoed the sentiments of the awards selection committee.
At the Sept. 1 grand opening, INF Supervisor Ed Armenta described Louth as “the face and the name of the visitor center … the man who had his hand in every aspect of the reconstruction.” Armenta added earlier this week that Louth is “an outstanding employee with fine interpretive skills. He really cares about getting the message to our public” and Louth is probably the best of Region 5’s interpreters.
Inyo County Board of Supervisors Chair Marty Fortney said Louth has been “the bulldog behind the entire resurrection project.”
Connie Millar, senior scientist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region Research Station, said, “Thank you, John, for resurrecting the visitor center, literally from its ashes.”
Tim Williams, who serves as USFS Region 5 coordinator for both Interpretive Services and Conservation Education, said, “I’m hoping the best for the guy. It is a really big deal to get a regional nomination, a very prestigious thing.” This award acknowledges that “the field of interpretation is a career, something people put their life into and John has been exceptionally outstanding.”
Winning the national award, Louth would “join the ranks of very important people who have advanced our knowledge” of myriad aspects of the bristlecone pine and the Eastern Sierra. “This will mean a huge amount for his career, a huge amount for the Inyo National Forest and for the local two-county community,” added Williams. Whether Louth wins the national ward or not, the nomination is “still a reward and an acknowledgement of all his years in the field (going) beyond the normal” call of duty.
This award, named after “the founder of modern forestry,” has been around for about 25 years, said Louth. Gifford Pinchot served as the first chief of the USFS from 1905-1910, reforming U.S. forest management and development and advocating for “the conservation of the nation’s reserves by planned use and renewal,” states Wikipedia.com. “He called it ‘the art of producing from the forest whatever it can yield for the service of man’ (and) coined the term ‘conservation ethic …’”

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