Name: Sharon Swagger
Title: Conservation Easement Specialist
Company: US Dept of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
Alma Mater: UGA Warnell School of Forestry ’04 & ‘07
1. What made you decide your career path?
I grew up outside, boating on the lake, camping in the mountains, hunting with my dad and grandfather, and I just always wanted to do something in science. My older sister found the forestry school at UGA for me, and I just decided, as soon as I heard of Warnell and visited the school, that that was where I was supposed to be, that was home! I always thought I’d stay a field biologist, but once I began working with private landowners and my family life changed, I realized where my passion was – protecting the land so that all future generations (like my son) can enjoy them and have ecological services, like clean water and clean air, always available to them. I started out as a private lands biologist with GA DNR, and learned so much about conservationist easements and their value to our natural resources, and I pursued that as a career.
2. What is the biggest challenge you think women natural resource professionals face?
It seems that work-life balance is always the question that arises for women in the natural resource field. Finding that balance is super important, so that you can feel like a winner at home AND a winner at work. Most women these days are expected to parent as if they were a stay at home mom and focus on their career as if they did not have a family. Finding a work place and a partner that supports you on both is critical to your success and happiness!
3. What is the biggest challenge you think women landowners face?
Respect for their knowledge base from their peers. As a woman in a male-dominated environment, it’s always a challenge to speak and be heard. But just push through it, do your research, learn all you can, and have confidence in your gut, experience, and knowledge!
4. What would you say to encourage other women to pursue a career in natural resources?
The biggest advice I give to young women in natural resources is to just ALWAYS be yourself. You will most likely be a minority, a woman in a male dominated field, but don’t try to be one of the guys. Just be you, and by excelling as yourself, you will earn everyone’s respect. Find that job that lights a fire inside you and allows you to look forward to what you do every day. Notice I didn’t say look forward to going to work every day…no one likes that. But find the job that inspires a passionate response from you, and work won’t seem to bad.
5. What is your biggest attribute that has allowed you to be successful in your field?
I am very good at talking to people and finding a connection with them. Communication is a key to success in any career, but it is super important in natural resources, when you are dealing with landowners from all walks of life. Sometimes I get a little too busy and am not as great at responding to emails but give me a call and I can answer your questions all day long. Being in the natural resources field, just know you WILL be dealing with people and not just wildlife, trees, or habitats. People management is one of the most important aspects of a natural resources career, so learn the skills to be good at that and you will succeed.
6. What is your favorite quote?
“Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them.”
“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.”
“Without love of the land, conservation lacks meaning or purpose, for only in a deep and inherent feeling for the land can there be dedication in preserving it.”
– Sigurd Olson
7. What is your favorite memory, from your career, to date?
I was at one of my very first conservation easement closings. The landowner, an older gentleman, who had farmed the land since the 1950’s, signed the permanent conservation easement deed with tears in his eyes. He looked at me and said “Now no one can ruin my legacy. This land, grazed by cattle and enjoyed by wildlife, will always be. Thank you.” From that day forward, I was hooked on conservation easements.