The new field manager of the Bureau of Land Management’s Glasgow Field Office comes from a career in the U.S. Forest Service, but she says her experience as a supervisory natural resource planner helped in her selection for this job.
“The resource is different but the processes are parallel,” said Phoebe Patterson. “My job is enabling the on-the-ground resource people in this office to succeed.”
In Valley County, the field office manages more than 1 million acres of public land, which may be the biggest solid chunk of BLM land in Montana. Patterson has a staff of seven in the Glasgow office, and is actively trying to fill a vacancy by hiring a wildlife biologist. She has nudged the physical arrangements in the office to make it a more likeable workplace: forming the conference room tables into a circle, bringing in a water cooler, moving the exercise equipment into a big unused space for a workout area.
“I like to have fun at work,” she said.
Patterson arrived on the day before Thanksgiving, so she is still getting acquainted with her job and her new federal agency. Moving from USFS to BLM meant changing from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of the Interior.
Patterson’s training and experience are focused on the outdoors, and she said she strongly prefers being in the field to being in an office. She graduated from the University of California-Davis with a B.S. in renewable natural resources and attended the University of Montana, studying natural resource planning, before joining the Forest Service. She said she has a broad hands-on background, having done everything from digging fire lines to answering the telephone to cleaning outhouses.
Her family came from the San Francisco area to White Sulphur Springs every summer, and she found the place she wanted to be.
“I have a love for the land in Montana,” Patterson said. “I got this part of the country in my heart.”
She has managed to stay in Montana, in Kalispell, Missoula and Butte, except for the last two and a half years, which were in the “teensy” town of Randall in southwest Washington state, a place that was an hour and a half from a grocery store. Compared to that, Glasgow has plenty of amenities.
“Glasgow is wonderful,” Patterson said. “It has everything I need in a community.”
There are two grocery stores, beauty shops, medical care and vets for her two rescued dogs, Pepper and Sage, her Spice Girls. They are all still living in a motel, waiting to move into a house.
She has been out getting a feel for the area, and was delighted to see her first snowy owl. Perfection would probably be a ski mountain in the neighborhood, but she will get by with cross country skiing.
Patterson had an interesting break in service. While she was in Missoula, she opened a baby store called Cradle and All. For eight years she learned the importance of customer service, running the business and doing her own advertising and marketing. But the dot.coms hit brick and mortar businesses hard, so she closed in 2005.
For four years she was an independent consultant, doing training, acting as an environmental compliance monitor in Alaska, and teaching about the National Environmental Policy Act, which she says is her specialty.
Her philosophy about environmental assessments and environmental impact statements is to make them as efficient as possible, to match the analysis with the complexity of the project. She said these studies are often too elaborate, when what they should answer is: What do they need to know to make an informed decision?
Patterson said she is looking forward to meeting the BLM permittees in Valley County and finding out how she can get involved in the community.
“I love collaboration and partnerships,” she said.