Breaking Boundaries, youth crew blog entry

Written by Javier Araiza-Cordova

Espanola Crew in Forest Stewards Youth Corps_2022

Javier’s Forest Stewards Youth Corps Espanola crew in 2022

My name is Javier Araiza-Cordova and I have been working for the Forest Steward Guild for a year. It has been a great learning experience. Before I get into how the Guild has helped me on my journey let me give you my background and how I learned about the Forest Steward Guild. Before joining the Guild, I worked at a family-owned pizza shop in downtown Santa Fe in 2022. As much as I enjoyed working with my family and serving food to customers, I never felt satisfied or fulfilled with my current job and the stress of graduation left me disoriented and lost with my life. After graduation I continued to work and make plans about where I wanted my life to go since I was not interested in working in the food industry. I was a huge fan of nature and the outdoors, so I wanted to pursue a career in that very subject. Luckily one of my cousins was a firefighter and recommended the Forest Stewards Guild since they dealt in that field of work specifically and they even helped with teaching you about basic firefighting training. “They provide good training and opportunities; I believe that it would be something worth your time” he told me and that it would be a “great learning experience” and I would get important training done which would benefit me in the future.   

At first, I was not too confident that I would get the job since I assumed the position would be filled, and I did not have any experience to help me out. Luckily Sam Berry, the Southwest Associate Director for the Forest Stewards Guild, gave me a call telling me that I got the job. After meeting my crew, we embarked on our journey to learn how to become firefighters which included a balanced two weeks of informational classroom sessions as well as a good amount of field activities which taught us fire operations/management and chainsaw maintenance/usage. 

Once we finished our first weeks of training, we proceeded to do a variety of different projects such as trail building and slash piling.  

Our biggest project was helping the University of New Mexico in their reforestation project to plant 12,000 seedlings to combat the damage and burn scars from the Hermits Peak fire. Even after all the successful projects, I was missing something important. I found that participating in prescribed burning was the missing piece. So, for the fall season of 2023 I decided to return for another season with Forest Stewards Guild to hopefully fulfill the missing piece and put my skills to use. Lucky enough for me they had two projects that included fire, first being the Cottonwood Gulch RX which was an incredibly fun and educational burn. 

Espanola Crew in 2023 with fire engine

Espanola Crew in 2023 with fire engine

It taught me the reasons and purposes for prescribed burns and why they are necessary for the health and safety of the ecosystem and the people. For our second burn, we were invited to Taos Ski Valley.  This one being vastly different because it was a pile burn. During this season with my new crew, I learned better leadership skills, communication skills, and overall improved from last year. Before my season ended the Guild approached me with another job opportunity for a winter pile burn crew also known as the All Hands All Lands crew. The purpose of the crew was to help with any prescription pile burns during the winter which helps reduce the fuels to prevent major fire damage during an actual wildfire. Which was fun but stressful at times because of the unpredictable weather and the hikes that sometimes would take most of the day. Those bad days and hikes were a humbling experience, because it helps build character and determination. We stayed positive through it all, which was a great experience because it helped me find things that I could improve on as a person and gave me the confidence that I was missing.  

All Hands All Lands pile burns in 2023

All Hands All Lands pile burns in 2023

The Forest Stewards Guild really helped me find a purpose in this world that I’m very grateful for. My goals after this are to go to school for a semester and study in Biology and other environmental classes so I can improve on one of my passions which is the environment. Lucky for me this job has helped me build a solid foundation that I can use just in case I decide to pursue something different in the future.  Hopefully I can join a permanent crew soon and maybe one day with more experience I can teach the younger generation about fire and the environment to help them pursue their passions.