Changes at the Los Padres National Forest may bring hope to the community that calls the forest its own after a summer rough with fires.

Peggy Hernandez, a former assistant director for the natural resources management staff in the United States Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest regional office, will take over this week as the new supervisor for the Los Padres National Forest. Hernandez’s position change was announced earlier this month, and her term officially begins Oct. 1. Hernandez hopes to usher in a new chapter with her position, and she plans to start with as much community input as possible.

Hernandez said although she had not yet been briefed on the complexities of the Los Padres, her forest management philosophy always involves the public first.

“It’s the Forest Service’s responsibility to make sure [the public] is involved and informed, and to ensure that their voices are heard,” said Hernandez.

Hernandez’s background makes her more than qualified to head up the team at Los Padres. A native Californian, Hernandez received her bachelor’s degree in Natural Resource Management from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and has spent her entire career working either with or for the Forest Service. She spent six years as district manager for the Angeles National Forest, a complex urban system that helped her gain experience managing both heavy recreational use and fire-planning.

Hernandez also has political experience, working as a congressional fellow and completing the Senior Executive Fellow Leadership program at Harvard University. Other foresters within the service say her varied experience is what made Hernandez the perfect choice.

“Peggy’s combination of leadership ability, technical skills and vast breadth of experience will serve the Los Padres very well,” Regional Forester Bernie Weingardt said.

Hernandez already seems to have a sense of the challenges she will face as supervisor for the Los Padres. She comes onboard less than a month after firefighters stopped a blaze started in July that burned more than 240,000 acres in the forest.

“From an agency standpoint we are facing reduced budgets and most of that budget goes to fire management,” Hernandez said. “There’s a lot of rehab from the Zaca fire to be done, and we will have to balance that with developing partnerships with external groups to achieve our management goals.”

There are many ways to involve the community, said Hernandez. The Forest Service will continue to reach out to the public in order to seek more personal feedback on planning, and it will give the public an opportunity to ask questions. In addition, partnering with local community action groups and various environmental groups is important.

“Volunteers, civic organization, schools, environmental groups — anyone who has an interested should be applauded, and we have to seek out those opportunities,” she said.

The Los Padres National Forest is many things to many people, and Hernandez seems to understand that. To some, it is a playground for hiking, horseback riding, camping, trail running or just picnicking. To others, the forest represents their livelihood, whether they sell outdoor sports equipment or are in the timber industry. And to most, the undisturbed land is one of the most prized aspects of living in Ventura County.

“We are always striving to provide different things to our residents, to balance the city and the forest,” Hernandez said.

When asked what she was looking forward to most, Hernandez mentioned both the community and the beautiful natural landscape that would be her new charge.

“I’m eager to find out what the community is looking for, so I can help chart the course,” she said. “I want the forest to be a part of the community and for us all to be moving forward in the same direction.”