NATURAL TALENT REACHES OUT Retired Forester Finds Calling in National Parks

By Landers, Rich | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), May 3, 2015 | Go to article overview

NATURAL TALENT REACHES OUT Retired Forester Finds Calling in National Parks


Landers, Rich, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


Ken Hires is living large in the great outdoors, satisfying his equal enjoyment of nature, wildlife and people.

Since retiring from the Washington Department of Natural Resources in 2000, Hires has hopped around from the Sonoran Desert to the High Sierra as an interpretive ranger for the National Park Service.

"I haven't been home very long in recent years before taking off to another position," he said.

A forestry career that groomed his naturalist and supervisory skills made him instantly desirable to parks looking for seasonal employees who interact with park visitors.

National park rangers have a brief opportunity in an ideal classroom to inform the public about important natural resources, Hires said.

During his 28 years with DNR, Hires headed the statewide Timber, Fish and Wildlife Program. Tourists are easy to handle after years of bridging industry with agencies and recreational interests.

Hires, 70, relishes the job of teaching natural history, as one could see tagging along on a ranger walk he led at his current post with North Cascades National Park. He's stationed at Stehekin, virtually surrounded by wilderness, at the end of 55-mile-long Lake Chelan.

"In Washington, 57 species of creatures depend on holes in tree snags," he said, pointing to what could have been a woodpecker nest cavity.

He was ushering a group of eight visitors, young and old, through a brief introduction of the area's trees and shrubs.

"This is one of my favorites, the Scouler's Willow," he said bending down a branch for all to examine. With the enthusiasm of a preacher in need of offerings to build a church, Hires explained how the willow grows fast, produces large quantities of nutritional forage used by a wide variety of wildlife from beavers to bear.

"And the bark has the same chemical as aspirin," he said, noting that humans have used it medicinally as a pain reliever, anti- inflammatory, astringent and diuretic.

A large-leaf maple was worth a stop. "It takes 50 gallons of sap for one gallon of syrup," he said.

As the group strolled toward the end of the ranger tour, Hires dipped into his pool of knowledge to answer questions.

"Yes, black bears are around here," he said. "Did you know that only 27 percent of black bears are black?"

After he retired from the state, Hires was freelance writing when he heard about a summer interpretive position with the Forest Service at Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument.

"My first job with the DNR was based out of Cougar. …

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