Resignation of Forest Service chief points to changes n west


Mar 11, 2001
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Published Wednesday, March 28, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News

Resignation of Forest Service chief points to changes to come in West

Mercury News

With a plea to the Bush administration not to roll back environmental safeguards, Mike Dombeck, a former fishing guide with a doctorate in biology, resigned as chief of the U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday.

The decision, prompted by policy differences, ended Dombeck's historic four-year effort to reshape America's national forests by emphasizing wildlife, recreation and clean water while reducing traditional uses such as logging and livestock grazing. It also highlighted anew differences between the Bush and Clinton White Houses over stewardship of public lands.

No successor was named.

``The mark of a truly wealthy nation is not measured in acres harvested, rivers dammed, oil barrels filled or mountaintops mined,'' wrote Dombeck in a six-page letter to his boss, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, which was obtained by the Mercury News. ``Our maturity is most ably displayed by demonstrating mastery over ourselves.''

The change in Forest Service chief has major repercussions for Western states.

In California, 20 million acres -- 20 percent of the entire state, or an area 25 times the size of Yosemite National Park -- is administered by the Forest Service, from high Sierra Nevada peaks to the Lake Tahoe Basin, Big Sur and the chaparral forests ringing Los Angeles.

Key decisions about whether to increase or reduce logging in the Sierra Nevada are pending.

A host of other issues also will be affected: the fate of the new Sequoia National Monument; plans by the Navy to build a bombing range near Big Sur; and possible deals for the state to acquire 80,000 acres of PG&E forest lands as part of an energy bailout.

``My hope is that the new administration will focus on forest health issues and watershed restoration,'' Dombeck said in an interview. ``I believe going the other direction will have a lot of challenges.''

Under federal law, Dombeck, a Clinton appointee, could have remained on the job until May 20.

But differences with the Bush administration over the future of America's 192 million acres of national forests -- a vast patchwork of public lands ranging from California's towering Mount Whitney to Idaho's whitewater rivers and New England's hardwood forests -- prompted his early exit.

Dombeck, a hero of environmentalists who was pilloried by Western Republican lawmakers, who saw him as a menace to rural economies, said he enjoyed a cordial relationship with Veneman.

``He announced his retirement,'' said Kevin Herglotz, press secretary for Veneman. ``He felt it was the right time to step down. He wanted to allow the secretary an opportunity to bring on a new team.''

Sources said that in their first major policy meeting about a month ago, Veneman made it clear that many of Dombeck's directives were not going to be embraced by the Bush administration.

In a brief statement, Veneman called Dombeck: ``a dedicated professional who has given over half his life to public service.''

In particular, Bush said during the campaign that he opposed Dombeck's roadless policy. That plan, released in November, bans nearly all new logging on 58.5 million acres of national forests with no logging roads. The states most affected include Montana, Idaho, Alaska and California, where 4.4 million acres were put off limits to commercial logging. Bush put it on hold until May.

A lawsuit is pending in Idaho.

State officials and Boise-Cascade Inc. sued the Forest Service to block the rules, arguing that environmental studies were incomplete. Last week, the Bush administration asked the court to delay a decision, but was turned down.

The U.S. Forest Service was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905 to limit clear-cutting of forests and restore health to rivers and streams while maintaining a viable timber supply.

Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, however, environmentalists and some scientists began deriding the agency as ``The U.S. Timber Service,'' where federal managers provided millions in subsidies while allowing clear cuts of old growth forests on public land.

In Dombeck, environmentalists found a champion who spoke more often of stream health than timber targets, blocked oil and gas drilling in Montana's Rocky Mountain Front, and promoted managers based on ecological goals rather than the amount of board feet cut.

Tuesday, they reacted with disappointment.

``Dombeck's resignation is another bad sign that the Bush administration will not protect our forests, but allow them to go to the highest bidder,'' said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club.

``We encourage President Bush to listen to those who hunt, fish, hike and camp with their families in our national forests -- not just timber and mining donors.''

Neil Lawrence, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, called Dombeck ``a giant figure in American conservation.''

``He led our national forests out of the dark ages of bulldozers and chain saws and into the new century of true public service,'' Lawrence said.

Timber interests said his departure is overdue.

``We're glad to see him go,'' said Chris Nance, a representative of the California Forestry Association.

``We think Chief Dombeck was listening to just one side of the issue. And these issues are very complex; you can't just listen to one group of special interests.''

Some Western Republicans said they hope Dombeck's successor will offer more balance, particularly on oil and gas drilling.

``We all want healthy forests and wildlife,'' said Sarah Berk, a press officer for Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho. ``But we also want to heat our homes. We want energy to power stoplights and hospitals. And we need wood to build houses. We need a timber supply. You can have a healthy forest that combines public access and environmental stewardship.''

Over the past decade, logging on national forests is down about 75 percent -- from 12 billion board feet in 1988 to roughly 3 billion last year, the lowest levels since World War II.

Nance said California imports 70 percent of its wood and has lost half its sawmills since 1990. Meanwhile, fire danger has increased because of overgrown forests, he said.

But Dombeck, 52, said he supports logging to thin forests to reduce fire danger, rather than cutting old-growth trees. And he said he was simply following the wishes of a majority of Americans, who wanted to see more recreation and less logging in national forests.

``I want to be remembered as somebody who helped bring a focus on a land ethic, conservation, watershed health -- returning the Forest Service to our roots.''

Dombeck's resignation letter is posted at
Contact Paul Rogers at or (408) 920-5045.


Apr 2, 2001
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it is about time he resigned! now maybe we can get our forest (monument) back!!!


Mar 11, 2001
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Bosworth named forest service chief

Friday, April 13, 2001
By Associated Press

Dale Bosworth, a second-generation forester who has spent 35 years at the Forest Service, was appointed the agency's chief on Thursday.
The selection won praise from Western Republicans, environmentalists and the timber industry — groups that often clash. They said Bosworth understands how to balance the economic value of national forests with conservation.

"He has demonstrated by working with a broad cross-section of people that he plays by the rules," said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

Bosworth, a regional forester overseeing the Northern Rockies, will govern some 192 million acres of national forest land, and manage 30,000 people and a $4.6 billion budget.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, whose department oversees the Forest Service, said in a statement that Bosworth was a "veteran forester" whose experience will be "a great addition."

He succeeds Mike Dombeck, who retired March 31. Dombeck said Bosworth, 57, was "a great choice."

"Dale was instrumental in developing key parts of the Forest Service's natural resource agenda and led development of the roads rule," Dombeck said.

That rule addressed the maintenance of roads winding through the country's national forests, as well as when to construct new ones.

The policy was later followed by a sweeping ban on road-building and logging in 58.5 million acres of national forest lands, except in rare circumstances.

The ban made Dombeck a lightening rod for Western Republicans, the timber industry and recreation groups, who regarded the land management plan as unfair.

The industry and other groups are fighting the rule in court. The Bush administration has delayed its implementation as part of a review that should be completed next month.

Bosworth has said he supports the policy.

Environmentalists welcomed his appointment, but generally worry about President Bush's environmental policies.

"The question is what is any chief going to be able to do under the Bush administration?" asked Sean Cosgrove, the Sierra Club's national forest policy specialist.

Bosworth was the regional forester based in Missoula, Mont. He oversaw 25 million acres in 12 national forests and four national grasslands in Montana, Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota.

He began his career as a forester in 1966 at the St. Joe National Forest, now part of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. He has worked on Western forest lands from Washington state to Utah.

Bosworth grew up in northern California, the son of a forest supervisor.

With his background, he has earned the respect of the timber industry. One of its top concerns is that decades of fire prevention have allowed unnatural, highly combustible fuels to threaten forests.
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