The Future of SAF: E. Krause

September 16, 2020

Continuing with profiles of up-and-coming SAF members who will continue managing our nation’s natural resources in the coming decades, this month The Forestry Source features E. Krause. Krause earned their undergraduate degree in criminal justice from Northern Michigan University and will graduate this fall from Michigan Technological University with a master of forestry degree. They joined SAF in 2019 and is a member of the Michigan Tech Student Chapter of Michigan SAF. At the upcoming 2020 SAF National Convention, on October 31, Krause will present OUTside with Pride: Being LGBT and an Ally in Natural Resources.

In their own words, Krause shares how forestry and wildland firefighting are inspiring them to advocate for the next generation.

Caught in the Krause-Fire
By: E. Krause


E. Krause is a graduate student at Michigan Technological University where they will graduate
this fall with a masters of forestry degree. During the summers, they have worked the US Forest
Service as a forestry technician on wildfire details and as a wildland firefighter for the Michigan
Department of Natural Resources. Photographs courtesy of E. Krause.

If I Could Write a Letter

I left my hometown of sugar beets and cornfields a few short months after graduating high school. My eye had been set on Northern Michigan University (NMU) for about a year after a conservation officer and mentor in Midland, Michigan, sold me on being a Wildcat after a few ride-alongs. He told me about cliff jumping and skipping rocks on Lake Superior, walking to the beach from the dorms, riding snowmobiles through the streets of town, and seeing the northern lights. How could I say no to that?
I loaded up my Saturn and my parents followed me the 352 miles (but just four turns) to Marquette, Michigan. While setting up my dorm, I envisioned my future as a conservation officer and how my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and minor in environmental science would take me to exactly where I wanted to be. My head raced about the cheerleading tryouts happening the next week, about liberal arts classes, and if I would join the Snowboarding Club.

I had no idea that six years later I’d be just a few months away from getting a master of forestry degree, have a minor and four years of wildland firefighting experience under my belt, have run an LGBT club for two years and done a ton of diversity work on two campuses in the Upper Peninsula, and have a dog and a wife. If I could write a letter to my 18-year-old self to warn me, I think I would have laughed until my lungs gave out.

Stepping-stones

I was at college for three days when I realized there was a wildland firefighting minor at my university. I was there for six days when I realized I was gay.
On day seven, I probably had a mental breakdown.

The liberal arts courses at NMU broadened me. “The Native American Experience,” “Gender and Sexuality,” “History in Music,” and “Communication 101” were some of the most valuable classes I took. Between these classes and having a crush on a queer Latina woman, my grasp of what we call “diversity” became pretty strong. By the end of my freshman year, I had taken my first wildland firefighting course and joined the only LGBT club on campus, Queers & Allies (Q&A). I worked as a seasonal park ranger that summer, and the following fall, a friend from the National Park Service took me out to the Hiawatha National Forest headquarters in Munising. I walked in and asked, “Is the fire guy here?” He was.

Those words and a handshake landed me a seasonal fire gig on the Hiawatha National Forest on an engine crew in the summer of 2016. I passed the pack test in 44 minutes and 44 seconds and couldn’t walk the next day, but it was all worth it to spend the next two seasons with the other seasonals, the assistant engine captain, and the engine captain. I spent some time on the east side of the Upper Peninsula in swamp fires, rode in a helicopter for the first time, went out west to Colorado over the Fourth of July holiday, and saw the entirety of the solar eclipse from a cliff on the Boise National Forest those summers.

And in those two short seasons, how was I so lucky to have met: one of the most qualified wildland fire individuals in the US Forest Service (USFS); one of the most-worldly persons I had ever met; and my most influential teacher and leader? I learned more about wildland fire and myself from these three men than I likely will in the rest of my lifetime.

While back at school, I pushed on through my criminal justice and wildland firefighting coursework and worked each summer and during the school year. I eventually became president of a student club and added a partner (the queer Latina woman) into the mix. In the summer 2017, I became a wildland firefighter for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in Gwinn, Michigan. Gwinn is flat, sandy, and filled with jack pine that will go up like a box of matches soaked in gasoline if you drop a cigarette on the right day. For two summers, those giant pockets of jack pine sat in the back of my mind and kept me on my toes. I remembered a three-day camping trip I took with my wildland firefighting teacher to Mio, Michigan, during which we walked to the spot in a similar stand of jack pine where Forest Service technician Jim Swiderski died in the Mack Lake Fire in 1980.

OUTside with Pride

Once at NMU, there was no doubt I was gay. I chopped my long hair off after a wildland firefighting course in Florida, when I decided I couldn’t stand the smell of burnt hair any longer. I surrounded myself with queer folks and soon came upon the term “butch.” It stuck with me. Soon I was this masculine presenting person who was more confident than I had ever been. My family at Q&A and my teammates at the USFS were my favorite people to be around. When the current Q&A president graduated, I took over. As part of my duties, I talked to administrators and others on campus to ensure  that policies protected people like me, that housing accommodated my community, and that one of the largest events on campus, the Annual NMU Drag Show, ran smoothly for the next three years. It flew by.

I like to think my story is a success story, but no great success comes without its struggles. I didn’t get to come out to my family; someone did that for me. The tears and talks with my parents slowly became lessons, smiles, and hugs. I was one of the lucky ones. I begged people to call me by my last name for about a year. Now hearing my first name catches me off guard.

Krause. The firefighter. The straight-A student. The activist. The butch. The hard worker. The hand-shaker. The hugger. The… woman?

Gender wasn’t something I thought of a ton until my first day in Idaho City, Idaho. My engine crew sat down for breakfast in a tiny restaurant. The two gals on the engine ordered first, followed by the only man on the crew.

“They told me it was an all-girls crew they were sending out here!” exclaimed the owner. “Wasn’t expecting you! Unless you’re one of them transgender people. My friend has a daughter like that. I always thought she just didn’t feed her enough vegetables!” She laughed as she wrote down my coworker’s order. I couldn’t look at her when I ordered my eggs.

After I paid, I caught her at a table as she was wrapping silverware in napkins.

“My name’s Krause. I’m gonna be eating here for the next 14 days, and I just wanted to tell you that what you said about trans people was not okay. I am not really a girl, but I am not a boy, and if you’d like me to keep eating here for the next two weeks, I’d appreciate if you don’t make a comment like that again.”

What had gotten into me to say those words? A fire in my belly rose as I spoke softly to her so others couldn’t hear, but then extinguished when the look of anguish came to her face.

“I am so sorry, Krause. I have never learned about trans people growing up in this town. Will you teach me more while you are here?”

That day my heart had hurt so badly from her words, then had climbed to new heights. I had realized then and there that I am nonbinary. I don’t play by the rules of gender, and I never had.

Change Is Coming

I joined SAF in fall 2019, after marrying the queer Latina I had a crush on since 2014 and moving to Houghton, Michigan. The College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Technological University welcomed me with open arms, after I realized that criminal justice wasn’t the path I was meant to be on. The dean hired me as an office assistant, after which I quickly fired off ideas about diversity and accessibility that had already been in the back of his mind.

I attended the SAF National Convention in Louisville and met more LGBT foresters. This fall, I am participating in “Fall Camp” in Alberta, Michigan, where I will spend the next 13 weeks in the classroom and field gaining as much knowledge as possible to enter my career as a forester, and someday, a professor. When I become a forester, I have big plans for change in the natural resources profession, advocating for diversity. My goal is to break down the barriers that minorities face in fields like natural resources, where the predominance of their coworkers aren’t like them. I never want another kid like me to feel like they are the only one.

E. Krause can be reached at elkrause@mtu.edu. Krause also has a podcast, “Caught in the Krausefire,” that features discussions on natural resources topics, and it’s available at https://tinyurl.com/y3h5vxox.

SAF members can read the full September 2020 edition of The Forestry Source here.