Agency’s new chief moves in, makes changes
WASHINGTON (AP) – The double doors to the Forest Service chief’s office are gone, their removal one of Dale Bosworth’s first acts after he took over the agency.
To some, the move symbolizes a return to tradition, with the chief communicating directly with local officials around the country. But it’s not clear yet how much the veteran forester – whose forest career started in 1966 – will listen to environmentalists, who are already taking aim at his policies.
Bosworth, 57, says he plans more than cosmetic changes at his agency, which oversees about 192 million acres of national forests and grasslands.
He said he’s comfortable with the direction taken in the past 10 to 15 years toward improving ecosystems and watersheds and away from big timber sales, which have declined more than 80 percent since 1990.
But Bosworth wants agency employees and citizens who live near forests to have a greater say in forest management.
And he sees room to offer more timber from federal forests for sale, though he won’t talk numbers.
In perhaps his most high-profile undertaking, he is working with Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to revise the ”roadless rule” – a Clinton administration ban on logging and road-building on a third of the nation’s most pristine federal forests.
Bosworth wants to ensure that people who live in remote places and know about roadless areas have a voice in crafting the policy.
”I generally support protecting roadless values,” he said in his office across the street from the Washington Monument. ”My big concern is that we’ll end up with all of the national forest either wilderness or roaded, and we won’t have the country that’s in between.”
The administration is on course to offer amendments to the rule in June and then allow more public comment.
The Bush administration has defended the roadless policy against court challenges, including one in Idaho. But environmentalists say the federal attorneys did such a bad job arguing the case that the Idaho judge used their language when he blocked the ban from taking effect earlier this month.
The administration hasn’t decided if it will appeal, as environmental groups have, Bosworth said.
People who know Bosworth call him a listener – to loggers, ranchers, conservationists and others.
But environmentalists who initially celebrated his selection in April now say their optimism has dimmed as he revamps the road ban and suggests increases in the timber harvest.
”We hoped the job of the chief was to stand up to the political masters,” said Michael Francis, national forest program director for The Wilderness Society.
Timber industry groups, meanwhile, are heartened.
”In the Clinton era … we saw all sorts of new people that didn’t have a relationship with the forest,” said Chris West, vice president of the industry’s American Forest Resource Council.
Bosworth, he said, ”has experience on the ground.”
Internally, some of Bosworth’s early changes are symbolic ones.
For instance, there are those who find meaning in the removal of the glass doors and his decision to use the desk of the agency’s legendary first leader, Gifford Pinchot, a conservationist who established scientific, sustainable use of forests. Some stop in just to see him – and the desk.
”Dale made it clear from the day he accepted the job … that when folks come into the Washington office, that folks come in and see him,” said Kathleen McAllister, the acting regional forester for the Northern Rockies, who has worked under Bosworth for more than three years and counting.
Bosworth could face a tough trial during this summer’s wildfire season. Last year’s blazes charred more than 7 million acres, and experts don’t expect this year to be markedly better – especially given drought in much of the country.
Congress roughly doubled the agency’s wildfire funding for this year to $1.9 billion, to rehabilitate burned land and to undertake efforts such as forest thinning to reduce wildfire fuels.
Bosworth sees thinning and other forest health work as a good way to increase the amount of timber offered for sale. But it will be difficult to lay the groundwork – hiring people, buying equipment – in time, he said.
”It’s a big job, but if we don’t perform in the end, we won’t get to keep those dollars,” he said.
Bosworth started with the agency as a forester on the St. Joe National Forest near Avery, Idaho, in 1966 and later moved around the country, per agency tradition. His father was a forest supervisor and his son is an agency forester.
Before coming to Washington, Bosworth lived in Missoula, Mont., overseeing a region that included 12 forests and four grasslands in the Northern Rockies.
What’s different in the nation’s capital?
”Not having quiet,” he said as a motorcycle roared past his office.
On the Net:
Forest Service: http://www.fs.fed.us/
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