A Black History Month Conversation

Black History Month

By Joseph Dobbins II, Friend of CCMI


Hello, hello! I am Joseph Dobbins II, and I am honored to have a platform for Black History Month (BHM) with Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (CCMI) for two consecutive years. Unfortunately, I won’t be doing a series of videos, but I am here to provide an interpersonal conversation of me interviewing myself. I hope you all enjoy!


Got into natural resources in the fall of 2018 on a trail crew with Southeast Conservation Corps (SECC).

Joined AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT) in the winter of 2018.

Did my first prescribed fire in early 2019 with ERT.

Worked for the City of Chattanooga as a crew member at a local park in the spring of 2020.

Joined L-A-D Foundation as a fire crew member in the fall of 2020.

Became a Fire Fighter Type 1 (FFT1) and Faller 2 trainee in the late spring of 2021 with The Nature Conservancy MN Chapter ( Squad Boss and Wildland Fire version of “B Faller”)

Crew Leader with Conservation Corps North Carolina (CCNC) in the summer of 2021. Led Pilot programs of BIPOC Trail Crew, Princeville Youth Summer Crew, SC Fire Crew 2022,

Promoted to Field Supervisor in the late spring of 2022.

Managed and organized Springfield Environmental Justice Crew in the summer of 2022 for Conservation Legacy.

Finished the Faller 2 taskbook in fall of 2022.

Rejoined The Nature Conservancy as a Prairie Management Tech in spring of 2023.

Went of a Wildfire Severity Role with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in the summer of 2023 south of Durango, CO.

Burn Crew Manager of 6-month Coastal Plains Fire Crew in Wilmington, NC

On the verge of finishing the FFT1 taskbook currently – a final evaluation away.

Why Am I Here?

Last year, CCMI enabled me to post short informational videos on their behalf reviewing various topics regarding Black History such as HBCU’s (historically Black colleges and universities), the march from Selma to Montgomery, and famous inventors and creators to name a few. I am here today because I am passionate about sharing information, and being a pilot for the next generation of conservationists who look, think, and share a similar background to myself.

Who or what comes to mind when you think of Black Historical Figures and Wildland Fire/ Field Practitioners?

At the entry of my career, no one comes to mind. I didn’t know of any significant Black figures being in my field. Currently, I am aware of groups who are out in the community and doing great work on the recreational side such as Outdoor Afro, my former coworker started Community Outdoor Wilderness, and even I started a Facebook group of BIPOC Outdoors. The heavy influence of social media has enabled the next group of recreationalists and practitioners to find someone who has a similar interest and skills to model themselves after.

Do you have any POC role models in the Management of Natural Resources?

I do not. When I jumped into this field it was a blind risk. I knew nothing about camping, hiking, yet alone using a handtool. The very first person who made me feel as if this field was possible, was Anja Hogan. She was the Northwest District Manager of CCMI, and we crossed paths on a rooftop in Puerto Rico in the summer of 2018 doing disaster relief service – small world. Her positivity gave me the courage to apply to SECC and there I found someone who I view as a mentor who is the Founder of SECC.

What is your greatest success from being an African American Leader in Management of Natural Resources?

The greatest success is from my time in Princeville, NC. Some background on Princeville, its original name is Freedom Hill, and it is where the first free Black Slaves lived. It is a tiny town that carries a significant portion of the history of this country. As you enter Princeville, you’ll see a sign welcoming you to Freedom Hill. The crew there was an all-Black Youth Crew, not necessarily from intentions but from the population. The relatability, the culture, the dialect, the constant friendly roasting of each of each other reminded me of my roots and it felt like home. It was the situation where I could see myself in them, and they could see themselves when looking at me. The following summer I returned as a Field Supervisor along with the pilot crew leader, and it was wonderful to be recognized by the principal of the school, by the mayor, and the youth’s parents. It was a powerful experience, something that I’ll take with me for the remainder of my life.

Greatest struggle?

The greatest struggle is the sacrifices I’ve made to be here. Rarely do I spend any time with my immediate family or hometown friends or friends I made over the years. I am always traveling to secure my future which is great, but it doesn’t establish the relationships I want to have with those I am close to. It’s a perspective of losing yourself to find a new and greater domain within.

How often do you work with Black folks in the field?

It is a rare occasion. Lynx, Tiara, another Tiara, Radar, Reggie, and a guy on wildfire assignment. 5 guys in 5 years. Lynx, Tiara, Reggie, and Radar were all within the same organization, and Lynx and Tiara were a part of the same crew. So, a total of two the past 2 years, and an average of one per year. Yikes.

How do we get more minorities in this field?

That is the million-dollar question everyone is seeking to answer. On paper with Corps around the country, there seems to be more specialty crews such as BIPOC, All Women’s, LGBTQ+, just to name a few, but I don’t have any data on the success of the recruitment efforts or retention. I do have a few radical recruitment ideas such as if you’re looking for more African Americans, go recruit to your local HBCU or churches or community center or local rec leagues. That is a large group of young folks who are looking to jumpstart their lives, and this could be an opportunity for them to do so. An additional suggestion is having an active representative who looks, thinks, feels like what you want to have plays a vital role in that recruitment process. For example, have an African American staff member go to the HBCU, that person will have a greater chance of success in comparison to sending a traditional white male instead. The final suggestion is staff retention. A large majority of minority staff members that I have built a relationship with within management positions left their respected organization. Finding solutions to retain with them can be vital to lifting recruitment efforts.

You mentioned that you can feel out of place in the community that is associated with your career, what eases your concerns?

The concern is working on private property – particularly Blacks- where I am not welcomed. As ridiculous may seem I’ve had a poor interaction with community members a few years ago in MN. After the situation, I was informed that the KKK hosted a rally in the church that was a few houses away from the crew house. With that in mind, I am always worried about how I am perceived regardless of my location. To counterbalance that I have a great set of friends who listen and value my presence.

What is the best part of being in Prescribed/Wildland Fire?

Great question. The amount of information that is available to be gathered and shared. You can do so many things such as being a fire investigator, FEMO (Fire Effects Monitor), research on the organisms that live in burned areas, RXB2 (Burn Boss), Dispatch, ICT1 (Incident Commander Type 1), and Helicopter just to name a few. It is a career with plenty of avenues waiting to be explored. Along with it, the ability to travel across the nation to work at locations that are unavailable to the general public is a wonderful perk that comes with the job.

What are my career goals?

To open the Firing Boss and Engine Boss trainee taskbooks. To do so I have to close out my FFT1 taskbook, and I am a final evaluation from that happening. I plan on using the platform of the NWCG certifications to work with youth, community members, and practitioners to protect our beautiful planet and to show the kids that you can have a long successful career being out in the woods. Also, I plan on finishing my educational journey of obtaining my undergraduate degree in the realm of environmental science.