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Into the fire

Ahuge chunk of Oregon, Idaho and Washington are forest service lands, so it matters to the region, even more than to most of the country, when a new National Forest Service chief is appointed. The more so, this time, because the new chief comes from this general area.

So for that matter did the current (since April 2001) chief, Dale Bosworth, who had led the forest Northern Region based in Missoula, which included the northern Idaho national forests. In the context of the times, Bosworth, who will depart on February 2, has done a professional job, following the orders of the Bush Administration (most specifically, apparently, those of undersecretary Mark Rey) and pleasing western conservatives while maintaining a number of areas of centrism. He wasn’t regarded as an ideologue, but just that concern has arisen about his apparent successor, Gail Kimbell.

Gail Kimbell
Gail Kimbell

Like Bosworth, Kimbell (who would be the first woman to run the Forest Service) is a veteran forest professional, and she has substantial ties throughout the Northwest. She was a district ranger in Kettle Falls, Washington, from 1985-88, and a district ranger in LaGrande, Oregon, from 1988-91. She’s now regional forester of the Northern Region at Missoula – Bosworth’s old territory – and there supervises northern Idaho forests.

She’s picked up some immediate support. Idaho Senator Larry Craig jumped on: “Like Dale, I expect Gail will listen to all interest groups and work with them to address issues on the ground, not get tied up in bureaucracy. I’ve worked with Gail as the Regional Forester for North Idaho, and I know firsthand that she is a natural leader. She understands Idaho’s forests. She’s firmly rooted in her principles, and knows how to foster collaboration to get work accomplished on the ground. She has definitely earned her stripes.”

But there are also other views.

Montana Democratic Senator Max Baucus describes her as “inclined to raise fees, close campgrounds and otherwise make it harder for people to access their lands to raise revenue.” She was one of the key architects of the Healthy Forests initiative.

She is also a key supporter of a new style of forest planning involving what are called “categorical exclusions” that – depending on how you look at it – either simplify the planning process or kick out of it much of the critical detail and considerations. Explaining the new process last year, she said, “We’re pretty excited about this new process. We think that it better reflects what the public wants from its national forests.”

These are, as noted, all Bush Administration approaches; they will not become central to the agency because Kimbell wants them to. But some early indications are that she may be a more enthusiastic proponent of them over the next couple of years than Bosworth was.

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