MADERA – Brittany Dyer has been Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler’s Chief of Staff since Feb. 2014, and is now moving on to serve as California State Director for American Forests.
American Forests is a 143-year-old national non-profit based out of Washington D.C. They have completed natural resource projects including reforestation for many years in California but due to drought, pests, increased wildfire and ever-changing conditions they decided that having on-the-ground support was appropriate.
“I will be working with diverse stakeholders throughout the state to encourage and create resilient forest landscapes through collaborative conservation. We all know that we urgently need to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration activities and that is exactly what I hope to help coordinate.”
Dyer, 32, says that in accepting this position it was very important to her to see industry leaders looking at forest health options creatively instead of politically.
“The days of left or right forest management are over. We know that reducing fuel loads, incorporating prescribed fire, and looking at meaningful ways to reduce and reuse forest debris is necessary. On the same note, we need to start thinking now about how we will replant these forests to best serve the next generation.”
Dyer came to the mountain area in 2009 as an AmeriCorp VISTA volunteer in North Fork. Her one-year assignment was capacity building at a four-county non-profit organization focused on natural resource conservation and sustainable economic development – the Yosemite/ Sequoia Resource Conservation & Development Council (YS RC&D). During her tenure, she lived in the basement of the main building at the Old Mill Site.
Just as her term was nearing completion, the organization’s one reliable funding source was pulled, but Dyer stayed on by creating a job for herself through grants and continued working with a number of other natural resource groups.
Four years later, YS RC&D was much more sustainable, and Tom Wheeler, who was the president of the organization, asked her to consider applying for a Legislative Assistant role.
“I immediately said no. I didn’t want to work in government – it was too slow. I had worked for the federal government for two summers in high school and decided it wasn’t for me.”
Tom asked her to think about it and it just so happened it was around the beginning of the drought and the massive tree mortality problem. That was very much of interest to her, and she agreed to take the job.
Though their world views may have been very different, they established a symbiotic working relationship early on.
“From the get-go, Tom and I have always been frank with one another – sometimes resulting in what I call direct discussions. We set clear expectations and learned early on how our individual drives could contribute to the larger goals to the public. We each brought different skills to the table yet they complemented each other and the end goals.”
Tom and Brittany would often find themselves with differing points of view, however she says she has always been impressed with his ability to hear both sides.
“He would come at something with one angle and I might present information from another. Instead of immediately saying yes or no he would ask, ‘why’ and ‘how,’ and in the end, he would take time to think it over and in his final decision always referenced the future generation.”
Working for Tom Wheeler has been a juggling act for sure, say Dyer.
“Everyday is different and I could never anticipate what might come up next, but having an opportunity to serve the communities that adopted me nearly ten years ago is truly an honor.
“One thing that Tom always says is, ‘you are only as good as the people under you.’ He truly believes this, and while he will challenge you and throw curve balls from time to time, he has always been committed to team success.”
During her tenure at Madera County, Dyer has served on a number of boards and committees:
- Governor’s Tree Mortality Task Force and associated working groups such as biomass utilization (2015-2018)
- Governor’s Forest Health Task Force, Tree Mortality Working Group co-lead (2018-present)
- San Joaquin Leadership Forum
- Yosemite Gateway Partners
Even with the intense workload, she managed to earn two degrees – Graduate Certificate Degree in Sustainable Natural Resources, and a Masters of Natural Resources, Forest Ecosystems & Society from Oregon State University Department of Forestry.
“I took one class each 12-week term and went to Oregon each summer for an accelerated class. I also took a leave of absence when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She survived over three years at which point I re-enrolled, as she made it clear she wanted me to finish.”
When graduation day finally came in June 2018, instead of driving to Oregon to walk across the stage and shake someone’s hand, Brittany and her husband Gilbert Moisa figured she had spent enough time sitting – while studying each night – and didn’t want to sit in a car all the way to Oregon. They decided that they could do their own “walk.”
Brittany and Gilbert married in the high county in a “secret wilderness wedding” with about 10 friends/ family – including a 9-month-old and four dogs – in 2016. Gilbert has worked for the U.S. Forest Service since entering a youth program at age 16, primarily in wildfire, and is currently the Fire Prevention Officer out of Batterson Work Center in Oakhurst.
Dyer started her new position at American Forests at the beginning of the year, though she is still working as extra help with the County during the transition and getting her replacement, Shalaya Holley-Young, up-to-speed.
Over the past five years, Tom always made his support very clear, says Dyer, telling her, “I will never be the one to hold you back. I know I will lose you one day, but you will go on to bigger and better things – tell me how I can help!”
Although her job will require her to work throughout the state, “American Forests has a keen interest in serving the Sierra and thus, I am able to work remotely. So I will be staying in the community!
“I cannot thank the County and the community enough for the amazing opportunity to serve,” says Dyer. “I know this is not an ending but a beginning of what is to come.”
Brittany grew up directly outside of Washington D.C., in both Maryland and Virginia, and spent much time on the Chesapeake Bay/ Potomac River. She would often organize cleanups and pick up trash in high school.
She moved to Florida upon graduating high school at age 17 to pursue higher education and to learn a new ecosystem. She spent many years studying American Sign Language and interpreting but ended up obtaining her Bachelor of Science in Communication, Public Relations from the University of North Florida in Jacksonville
Florida in May 2008, with a minor in International Studies. She studied abroad in Italy and the Brittany region of France.
During college, she worked full-time at the Jacksonville Jaguars stadium and upon graduation was offered a great job there, which she declined. Instead, she decided to go work and live on a permaculture farm in Costa Rica, as she “didn’t want to get stuck in special event planning/hospitality,” but rather wanted to learn more about our natural environment.
While in Costa Rica, she decided to pursue her calling – public service for natural resources – and applied for a job with AmeriCorps VISTA and interviewed several places. It came down to two – Alaska or North Fork.
The community of North Fork and the residents of District 5 have been enriched by her energy, knowledge and commitment. So glad to know that Brittany will still be part of life here in the mountains.