After 43 years with the United States Forest Service, range and watershed specialist Chuck Duncan is turning in his patch and riding off into the sunset. But he won't be alone as that ol' cowboy plans on having his nine grandkids with him as he continues to enjoy one of his favorite places, the Galiuro Mountain Range and wilderness area.
Duncan began his career with the USFS in 1969 as a firefighter while he was still studying range management at Eastern Arizona College. He grew up working on ranches, including the Muleshoe Ranch in the Galiuros, and knew he always wanted to have a job working the land.
"It's been a really good career," Duncan said. "I was very fortunate that I knew what I wanted to do when I got out of high school."
Duncan was just two years into that career when his country came calling. He answered the call and spent the next four years in the Navy, including two tours in Vietnam.
Upon his return to the Gila Valley, the Forest Service offered him his old job back, and Duncan resumed working the land, managing the trails and wilderness in the Coronado National Forest and the range and watershed program.
Throughout the years, Duncan has received various local, regional and national awards and has given back to the community in numerous ways, including assisting youths with Eagle Scout projects, volunteer programs, Earth Day events and administering the Youth Conservation Corps program for more than 35 years.
According to Safford District Ranger Kent Ellett, Duncan is well known for his active management of the district's 52 grazing allotments, noxious weed treatments and monitoring program.
"He is willing to help any way he can," Ellett said. "After 43 years, he knows the district better than the back of his hand and will be greatly missed."
Duncan attributed the variety of jobs that encompassed his position and his love for the wilderness with keeping him in the saddle for such a long tenure. He also credited a number of fine district rangers he worked under for keeping the job an enjoyable one.
"The nice thing about the Forest Service is you never do the same thing over and over again," Duncan said. "There's so many things that you do that you never get bored . . . I got paid to do what other people pay to do."
Duncan has worked on all of the various mountain ranges in the Coronado National Forest, working on the trails in the Safford, Douglas, Nogales and Sierra Vista districts, but his favorite is still the first one he rode in, the Galiuros. He cites the trails, history and roughness of the area as aspects he really enjoys.
"When you're back in there in that area, it's a real wilderness," he said. "(The) solitude of being back in there is really nice."
Duncan might have continued working for the Forest Service until the day he died in his saddle had it not been for his desire to spend more time with his grandchildren. Now he plans on having more time to gather up his brood for trips into the wilderness and be able to have his beans and eat them too, during his retirement.
"It's been a really great career," Duncan said. "I wouldn't have stayed here that long if it hadn't been."