Forest manager leaving post |

Forest manager leaving post

Andy Bourelle

Juan Palma, who has managed the U.S. Forest Service’s efforts at Lake Tahoe for more than two years, has what he calls a great opportunity.

That opportunity has nothing to do with Lake Tahoe.

Palma, who guided the Forest Service through the 1997 Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum, announced Monday his intention to take a position with the Bureau of Land Management in eastern Oregon.

“These past 27 months have been among the most rewarding of my career,” said Palma, forest supervisor of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. “Few civil servants are blessed with the opportunity I have had to assist in land stewardship through such far-reaching initiatives as a presidential visit and its resulting commitments to action. Now the initial presidential commitments are nearly completed. So I decided to apply for this BLM position two months ago, because I am dedicated to sound management for America’s public lands.”

Palma said there are two benefits to the new position, which, called a district manager for BLM, is the equivalent to a forest supervisor in the Forest Service.

First, it’s an opportunity to oversee 5 million acres of land as opposed to the 150,000 acres of National Forest land in the Tahoe Basin. The area includes a wide range of rivers, mountains and recreational activities.

The second reason, and a more personal one, is that the job will put him closer to family. His wife, Susan, is from the area, and Palma grew up in Yakima, Wash.

Palma, his wife and their sons Jonathan, 16, Joseph, 14, and Jacob, 13, will be leaving in August.

He will be missed.

“He’s made an enormous difference here,” said Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “He came in at a time when there was a lot of community distrust of the Forest Service, both from environmentalists and from the business community. He did a lot to restore people’s trust, to pull people together.”

Facilitated by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore visited Lake Tahoe for the historic forum. At the time, officials reviewed the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Environmental Improvement Program, a $900 million outline of what needs to be done to save Lake Tahoe.

Since then, federal, state and local agencies have contributed. The Forest Service, which is responsible for nearly 80 percent of the land in the Tahoe Basin, not only participated in the summit but has implemented numerous projects to improve forest health and, consequently, the clarity of the lake.

“Juan has been here during one of the most transitional couple of years at Lake Tahoe,” said Pam Drum, public affairs coordinator of TRPA. “From pre-presidential forum to post-presidential forum, it’s been a very exciting time, not only for the United States Forest Service but for the Tahoe Basin. Juan has certainly handled that in an outstanding fashion. Changing the way we’ve done things for a long time is probably not easy in an institution like the Forest Service, and Juan has not only not resisted that kind of change, he’s embraced it.”

Palma, 44, said he is proud of the projects the Forest Service has been able to implement: increasing prescribed burns and mechanical treatments to help forest health, decommissioning and rebuilding more than 30 miles of dirt roads on the North Shore to help fight erosion and acquiring sensitive land.

One of the highlights, he said, was his work with the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. He said he is happy to see the Washoe Tribe, the natives to Lake Tahoe, now operating Meeks Bay and involved in many of the efforts at Lake Tahoe.

Brian Wallace, chairman of the Washoe Tribe, said he hates to see Palma go.

“Not only has he been very active and helped with our efforts over the last two years, I think he’s a very good person. The basin community should be proud. He’s a very sincere and decent man; those are graces that are hard to come by these days,” Wallace said. “We haven’t always agreed and seen eye to eye, but his relationship (with the tribe) has been a positive one. I think the main things we appreciated were his honesty and decency. He’ll be sorely missed by the tribe.”

Palma also said he is pleased with his efforts to better coordinate the actions of federal agencies – such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – in their efforts to help Lake Tahoe. Additionally, he put a lot of time into creating the Lake Tahoe Basin Federal Advisory Committee, which was formed to allow Tahoe officials to help the federal partnership determine how it could help save Lake Tahoe.

Will his departure hurt the fight to save Lake Tahoe?

“I hope not,” Palma said. “My philosophy is that if a vision is strong, the vision will remain long after any one person leaves. My vision is a strong public-private partnership to enhance natural resource stewardship. That’s what I’ve tried to do at Tahoe. I’ve really invested my time and energy into that. My vision should not die without me; it should continue here at Tahoe.”

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