Susan Filkins remembers driving through Duck Valley and noticing the greenhouses behind Owyhee Combined School. She wanted to know more.
At the time, Filkins worked for the Bureau of Land Management with vegetation and grazing permits.
“I knew BLM helped build (the greenhouses), but didn’t know the status of them,” she said. “One day, I asked deputy director Peter Ditton.”
When the greenhouse program on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation was revived in 2013, Filkins was approached to facilitate it. In December, she received a Superior Service Award from the BLM for her work on the Duck Valley reservation and the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.
Filkins started working for the BLM in 2002 as a Boise State University student pursuing a second undergraduate degree in environmental studies. She also has a degree in natural resources from Western Illinois University.
Growing up in southern California, Filkins said, she always had an interest in biology and wanted to become a wildlife biologist. But as a BSU lab technician, she was introduced to plants. That’s where she met Roger Rosentreter, a longtime state botanist for the BLM, who became a mentor to her. Rosentreter is nationally known for his more than 40 years’ work with lichens. He travels the world talking about his lichen work and in the West lecturing on fire, rangelands and sage grouse habitats.
“He had an infectious attitude about plants,” Filkins said. “He showed me amazing things that plants do and don’t do. They have their own turf wars. Lichens will send out chemicals to keep other plants away. You can date sagebrush by the lichen on it. When he started talking about these processes, he was excited. There are so many wildlife biologists out there, but without the soil and the plants, you wouldn’t have any animals out there.”
Filkins’ father, Edward Barton, also influenced her work. Barton was Cherokee and shared articles with her about plants and their many uses. Barton, who drew on his Native American culture in all aspects of his life, was in the Air Force for 23 years and was active in Boy Scouts.
“He brought his Native culture to many Boy Scouts,” Filkins said. “He created the first Boy Scout troupe in Guam where he was stationed. He would educate people about Native people.”
Barton died seven years ago, and Filkins keeps a portrait of her father dressed in regalia in a frame next to her Duck Valley desk.
“I really do wish my dad was alive,” she said, “to see the program’s success.”