Female forest ranger makes history in Talladega National Forest

TALLADEGA, AL (WBRC) - Gloria Neilsen is the first female to ever head the Talladega District, in a position that's becoming more and more female oriented. Neilsen's trailblazing career has taken her all over the south, including Florida and Mississippi.

The Auburn graduate and Double Springs native says she's glad to be back in her home state. "I didn't want to be right in the back door of where I grew up," says Neilsen, "but I thought that this would be an excellent opportunity for me and my family to move back closer to my family."

Neilsen began her fascination with the outdoors and the Forest Service when she was 13.  "I think I was 13 when my mother actually started working with the forest service," she recalls. "She was actually a seasonal employee with the forest service, and she planted trees and did some herbicide work and different kinds of things along those lines."

Neilsen is now in charge of 120,000 acres of forest land. The Talladega National Forest extends into two other ranger districts.  Both of those are also headed by the first women in those jobs.  In an area that's supposed to be nothing but sky, they've broken the glass ceiling.

"It's a lot of work making sure that the area is administered properly, and that we're managing the forests for future and present generations." Neilsen's priorities including protecting rare bird species like the red-cockaded woodpecker, and education.  She expects to spend some time at Munford Elementary School, which is built in a forestland motif and does a lot of nature study.