Robert “Rob” Montague’s involvement in the local community and his commitment to respond to wildfire emergencies – plus many other local emergencies – are major reasons he was recently recognized as the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services 2020 Employee of the year.
Montague is the North Carolina Forest Service area ranger for Granville and Vance counties, and he’s been with the state and the division for 17 years. In that time, he has not only proven to be a valuable employee, but also an asset to the community.
Montague was first selected as the NCDA&CS Employee of the Month in November 2020, and he was then selected as Employee of the Year from the pool of 2020 monthly honorees.
His supervisor Jennifer Roach nominated him. She is the district forester overseeing the counties where Montague works. In her nomination, Roach said, “as his supervisor, I receive multiple phone calls and emails from both the public and internal customers about the great service he has provided.”
She went on to say,
“if you know Rob, you would know that he takes pride in a job well done. He takes pride in knowing that even the smallest tasks are done with efficiency and quality. His work ethic is not to sit around or watch things go by, but to offer help, to offer his services, or to offer solutions.”
Montague said his service to the community is his favorite part of the job. He doesn’t think of it very much as a job though.
“I’m fortunate enough that I can make a living doing what I want to do. If I couldn’t have so much contact with landowners, I wouldn’t find it as enjoyable,” Montague said. “The last word in N.C. Forest Service is “service.” We’re here to help people, and I’m fortunate enough that that’s what I’m able to do.”
Montague mentioned that he loves building relationships with citizens over the years and helping them come up with plans for how to make the best use of their land. He loves that people turn to the N.C. Forest Service for guidance, even if that means they stop him in the grocery store to ask him questions. He sees it as par for the course and an honor to be someone who citizens can turn to.
Most forest rangers focus on one county, but Montague has taken on responsibility for two – resulting in the “area” ranger title instead of “county” ranger. Roach said most area rangers prepare anywhere from ten to 30 land management plans each year, but Montague wrote plans for 96 tracts last fiscal year. That’s work that could be left to other staff, but Montague’s degree in forestry and his desire to help means he enjoys handling many of the forest management requests himself.
He says there’s a sense of pride in seeing people’s land and forest resources growing and being used. He knows some people grow timber with plans to retire or educate their children off of the money they earn.
“So much of the reward for me is to be here long enough to help people, whatever the task may be,” Montague said.
When he’s not helping with land management plans, he’s often carrying out education programs or other outreach. That means visiting schools, civic groups or local government meetings, or even hosting landowner meetings to share what the N.C. Forest Service does and how it can help citizens. In the fiscal year that included several months pre-pandemic and some months during the pandemic, Montague had 82 outreach events.
Montague also stands out when it comes to responding to wildfires and other emergencies – perhaps the most important responsibility of his position. He’s always sure it gets immediate attention. Sometimes, that means making sure his staff responds to an emergency, but most of the time Montague responds himself – whether it’s the middle of the day, the middle of the night or on a weekend. Even if he’s just sitting down to supper with his family, Montague will respond.
In Granville and Vance counties, there were 189 emergency responses or call-outs last fiscal year, and Montague went to 65 percent of them himself.
Because of his experience and dedication, local fire departments in both counties have come to depend on Montague and the N.C. Forest Service. He’s always listening to his emergency communications radio, so even when emergencies aren’t related to wildfires, he’s is willing to help if he can. That’s a big part of what’s made him such a part of the broader community.
He often responds to offer help when his chainsaw skills are needed, and local fire departments will call on him for that assistance. In another recent example, the local sheriff’s office contacted Montague to help in a search for a missing person. They knew they could count on him for help, and because of his work mapping out forestry land, he was able to produce detailed maps to help in the search.
Roach said whether it’s those emergency situations or just day-to-day work, Montague is always going the extra mile. She sometimes has to check in with him to be sure he’s taking the time off he deserves.
“He’s going to do the job to meet the needs of the community, and whether that’s working all day or all weekend that’s what he wants to do,” Roach said.
Again, Montague doesn’t really think of it as work though. He said he’s fortunate to have the support of his wife and teenaged son who understand his job and his dedication. He thinks of his job as a lifestyle – certainly not an “8 to 5” job. He also credits others he works with.
“This is not just me. It’s all the people in our organizations that support the Forest Service. These accomplishments for citizens couldn’t happen without a team effort from employees at the local to regional and state level,” Montague said. “I’m very proud to wear the uniform and be part of the organization.”