When Jay Power decided to major in geology, he had no idea his career would one day involve stakeouts, shootouts and raids.
Jay Power, of Sugar Pine, stands in his office at the Stanislaus National Forest headquarters in Sonora. He has worked as patrol captain for the forest for about eight years. Maggie Beck / Union Democrat, copyright 2012
The 63-year-old Sugar Pine resident has retired from his position as patrol captain of Stanislaus National Forest, after about eight years of service.
He supervised the law enforcement program, which required him to administer agreements with other counties, prepare forest orders, train officers and investigate wildland fires.
But during his tenure at Stanislaus and Klamath national forests in California, Power also assisted with adrenaline-rushing marijuana busts and bizarre protests.
“It was like something out of a Wild West movie,” he said of his past experiences.
Power dealt with a series of Earth rights protestors in Klamath, where he camped out and waited for the partially-clad activists to unchain themselves from devices they planted in the middle of the road.
He also contributed to marijuana raids where shootouts sometimes broke out.
“We were just starting to deploy and you could hear ‘boom, boom, boom’ … and it was the SWAT team versus the growers,” he said. “In fact, we had that happen twice in one week.”
A couple years ago, his squad was dispatched to Cleveland
National Forest near the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego County, where the officers staked out in the woods at night, waiting to catch growers who managed to cross the border.
The squad consisted of about five officers and they would sometimes be up against as many as 20 growers who were trying to reach the interstate to hitch rides.
The officers would also stake out in a ranger’s station waiting for growers to trigger seismic sensors buried in the soil.
“We’re not doing that any more, but it was absolutely wild,” he said.
Power always knew he wanted to pursue a career in natural sciences, taking after his father who worked for the California Park Service.
Power lived in nine different state parks with his parents, including Fort Ross, a former Imperial Russian settlement in Sonoma.
When his father accepted a job with Columbia State Historic Park in 1965, Power’s family transferred to the Mother Lode, where he spent his junior and senior year at Sonora High School.
He spent his summers working at the Hidden Treasure Gold Mine in Columbia and Calaveras Big Trees State Park, before heading to University of California, Santa Cruz.
After the school’s plans for a forestry program fell through, Power began shopping around for another science major.
“I always considered rocks the most boring thing in the world,” he said.
But he liked the professors and grew fascinated with the field, explaining that geology is the “foundation of everything.”
He spent his first two years after graduation as a geologist for the Stanislaus National Forest and then moved to Sacramento to monitor earthquakes for the California Division of Mines and Geology.
Three years later, he and his now ex-wife quit their jobs and moved to Alaska in the middle of winter, where they lived for three years. He worked for Mount McKinley National Park, the National Audubon Society and the Department of Environmental Conservation before he decided to return to California.
“People from California like their sunshine,” he said. “So after a couple winters of hardly ever seeing the sun, we came back down.”
Power and his ex-wife have a 29-year-old-daughter who works for an autism foundation and a 31-year-old daughter who is a fire marshal in the Bay Area.
Power plans to spend his newfound free time exploring the outdoors through his longtime hobbies of hiking, river rafting and kayaking — activities he describes as being part of “a ranger’s holiday.”
He said his river running skills are outdated since he’s been working the past 30 years, but that didn’t keep him from kayaking and rafting down half of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon last May.
He also plans to visit national parks including Yellowstone and Grand Teton in Wyoming with his girlfriend, who teases him when he gets ecstatic about natural wonders.
“She said it’s like having a naturalist along all the time,” he said.