Where is Hoosier National Supervisor Mike Chaveas coming from?

Mike Chaveas’s first glimpse of Southern Indiana came in the mountains of eastern Morocco. After earning a bachelor’s degree in wildlife science at Virginia Tech in 1998, the Virginia native spent two years in the Peace Corps in the eastern High Atlas Mountains. He was working as a wildlife biologist on a proposed national park when he learned about the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) masters program.

Before Africa, Chaveas (pronounced like Chavez with a short a) expected to pursue a career as a wildlife biologist.

“That was primarily my interest at the time,” the Hoosier National Forest Supervisor said during a July 17, 2015, interview at his office in Bedford, Ind.

This is the first in a series of articles from an interview between Hoosier National Forest Supervisor Mike Chaveas and Natural Bloomington’s Steven Higgs. Upcoming pieces will address forest management, timber harvesting, wilderness and more. The 38-minute conversation can be seen in full or in segments at the Natural Bloomington YouTube channel or through Community Access Television Services in Bloomington.

But as often happens in the Peace Corps, Chaveas’s experience was life altering. He lived in a remote area not far from the Algerian border where several villages, both inside and outside the proposed park, depended upon the region’s natural resources for their survival. He became interested how people who live off the land relate to it.

“That really shifted my interest to more the social side of things,” he said.

By “luck,” Chaveas said, he stumbled upon some information for the SPEA program while in Morocco. The mountains were indeed beautiful. And the learning experience was tremendous. But SPEA fit the bill.

“I ended up here in Bloomington at IU,” he said.

During his time on East 10th Street, Chaveas not only earned a dual masters in public policy and environmental science, he met his wife Kristi, a Bloomington native.

After a few years at the Forest Service’s International Programs Office in Washington DC coordinating the agency’s technical operational efforts in Africa (“Great job, fantastic opportunities to learn a million things”) Chaveas returned to his primary focus – “getting down to a more distinct piece of land, to be able to work at a more localized level.”

From 2004 until his June 2014 appointment as Hoosier Supervisor, Chaveas served as a deputy district ranger on the Coconino National Forest outside Flagstaff, Ariz., and a District Ranger on Mt. Hood outside Portland, Ore.

Mike, Kristi and three children have visited her family in Bloomington through the years, so the move was somewhat of a homecoming.

“I was in a great place there on Mount Hood,” he said. “I loved my job. I loved the place where I was working. But when I saw this opportunity that this job came vacant here on the Hoosier, I couldn’t resist putting in for it, and things worked out well.”

Still being new to the Hoosier, one of the nation’s smallest, Chaveas said he is still listening to what people want and trying to mesh the “shared goals, shared initiatives” between groups that have differences in the big picture or in the details. And he wants to hear more.

“It’s public land,” he said of the Hoosier’s 202,000 acres scattered among the Southern Indiana hills from Monroe Lake to the Ohio River. “And the public, we want them to let us know how they feel. We want them to let us know what they want from their forest.”

Photographs: Top right, Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area, Hoosier National Forest; Bottom left, Hoosier National Forest Supervisor Mike Chaveas; Bottom,right, Hoosier National Forest, Martin County.


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