Clinton’s Forest Service chief leaves Bush administration |

Clinton’s Forest Service chief leaves Bush administration

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – Forest Service chief Mike Dombeck, who tangled repeatedly with timber and mining interests during his four-year tenure, is stepping down because of differences with the Bush administration over the agency’s future, a former senior aide says.

Dombeck could have stayed until the end of April, longer if asked. Instead, he told his boss, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, he was resigning effective Saturday and planned to tell the agency’s leadership Tuesday.

”It was made clear in no uncertain terms that the administration wants to take the Forest Service in another direction,” said Chris Wood, who served as Dombeck’s top aide until Friday. But ”it is very cordial.”

A fisheries biologist by training, Dombeck, 52, took over the service in January 1997 and reshaped it from a government agency considered to be a friend of the timber industry to a cautious guardian of about 192 million acres of national forests.

As chief he worked to conserve old-growth forests, expand protections for wilderness areas and increase funding to fight wildfires and protect communities.

Perhaps one of Dombeck’s most notable initiatives, but one facing multiple legal challenges, will be the roadless plan, a ban on road-building and logging in 58.5 million acres of national forest lands, except in the rarest of circumstances.

The ban originally was to have gone into effect March 13, but President Bush postponed it until May 12 so he could review it. Timber interests had sought a court injunction to stop the ban.

During his tenure Dombeck made enemies of some Western Republicans and the timber and mining industries. ”His objective is to terminate harvesting in the national forests,” Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has said.

Last week the Interior Department, bowing to mining groups, decided to suspend new hard-rock regulations for public lands that would have strengthened environmental standards. The new rules were imposed on former President Clinton’s last day in office.

In departing, Dombeck wrote Veneman a six-page letter outlining 10 recommendations for the agency.

Among them:

nThe Bush administration should not negotiate a settlement with those opposed to the road-building ban.

nThe agency should complete an inventory of old-growth forests and ensure their conservation.

nThe federal government should increase funding for employees who protect wilderness areas, an effort Dombeck expanded and raised in importance within the agency when he made it a separate program.

On the Net:

Dombeck’s biography:

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