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The quiet man


One of Idaho’s most effective “behind-the-scenes” operators is making the rounds at the Capitol building this week introducing his successor to legislators and key folks in state government. Well known in that small group of movers and shakers because he is one of its key participants, he is soft spoken and rather taciturn.

When he speaks though, others listen for his take is always matter of fact, objective, informative and to the point. He radiates integrity and commands respect because he possesses that rare quality called gravitas. He also has a subtle sense of humor and his word is his bond.

His name is Bob Boeh and he is the vice president for government affairs for the Idaho Forest Group. When he turns 70 on May 13th he’ll hand in his hard hat and formally turn his post over to Tom Shulz, the former director of the Idaho Department of Lands. Shulz knows he has a tall order in trying to fill Boeh’s boots.

Mark Brinkmeyer, chairman of the Idaho Forest Group (formerly known as Riley Creek Timber Company), would be the first to tell one that hiring Bob Boeh away from Plum Creek was one of the smartest moves he ever made. As a key advisor to the chairman, Boeh was instrumental in working on the management team that has seen IFG expand from one mill when Boeh first went to work there 20 years ago to six mills today with the recent acquisition of the St. Regis mill.

IFG’s other mills are at Moyie Springs, Laclede, Chilco, Lewiston and Grangeville.

Boeh’s 20 years with IFG following 26 years with Plum Creek gives him almost half a century in a business that has faced more than its share of challenges during the past half century. Boeh jokingly tells folks that it’s time to retire when you realize you’re older than many of the trees one is running through their mills.

Born in Butte and a 1970 graduate with a forestry degree from the University of Montana, one of Boeh’s hallmarks is he has always kept an open mind and has listened carefully to all the industry critics, including folks from the Idaho Conservation League and the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness Group, and not just to the traditional business support.

He also played a critical role in helping Plum Creek redo the way it was conducting business in the Rocky Mountain region. The day he saw Plum Creek described by a Republican congressman on the front page of the Wall Street Journal as “the Darth Vader” of timber companies he knew things had to change.

Then Plum Creek chairman Dave Leland also knew some changes had to be made in the way they did their job, as did the Rocky Mountain region vice president, Charlie Grenier, along with his deputy, Mike Covey (now the chairman of Potlatch) and Boeh.

They assembled their unit managers, foresters and biologists and listened to the harsh results of a comprehensive poll as well as a tough talk regarding how private timber companies had to recognize they might own the ground but the public had a vested interest in keeping water clean that passed through the land, maintaining air quality and protecting the wildlife that lived on the land. They had to recognize that any business operates by public consent.

It also became crystal clear that no matter how the industry tried to package it, most of the public hated clear cuts. Even business in their home communities detested clear cuts. With this information in hand Boeh and Grenier led their foresters through an exercise that evolved into a binding commitment to adopt ten principles of environmental forestry and some significant changes in the way they got out the cut.

The decision was also made to seek “green certification” which they obtained and not to advertise until they had walked the talk. One former critic was former Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus who early in his first term sent Leland a picture of a stream bed piled high with slash. Grenier invited Andrus to come take a second look during his third term and Andrus was suitably impressed at the changes.

Boeh, when asked what he considered his legacy to be, quickly cited opening meaningful dialogues with environmental groups, including forest collaborative groups, helping Brinkmeyer grow the business, and making clear cutting a practice of last resort.

Retirement plans call for he and his wife, Sandi, to visit as many of the national parks as they can, a cruise up the Inland Passage, continuing to raise and train hunting dogs, more hunting and fishing as well as more time with the granddaughter.

Those that appreciate professionalism, candor, integrity and ability will miss this quiet man who epitomizes the phrase made famous by President Teddy Roosevelt – walk softly but carry a big stick.

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