Bosworth says he's leaving forests job
An architect of the Bush administration's push to revamp logging rules is taking over the top spot at the U.S. Forest Service, after Dale...
Seattle Times staff reporter
An architect of the Bush administration's push to revamp logging rules is taking over the top spot at the U.S. Forest Service, after Dale Bosworth announced his retirement Friday following six years as chief.
Gail Kimbell, currently the regional supervisor for northern Idaho, Montana and North Dakota, will be the first woman to head the 101-year-old organization that manages national forests throughout the country, including vast tracts of Washington forestland.
She takes over amid several ongoing challenges for the Forest Service in the Northwest, including costly forest fires, an aging network of roads and buildings, and conflicting demands for everything from hiking trails to logging projects.
The agency she inherits also is the focus of battles here between environmentalists and timber and mining industries. Here, much of the fighting revolves around Forest Service proposals to change regulation of logging in old-growth forests and roll back protections of roadless wilderness.
Bosworth's retirement comes after 41 years at the Forest Service. In an interview Friday, he said simply that "it seemed time to retire."
Under Bosworth, who has led the agency since shortly after Bush took office in 2001, the agency has been at something of a stalemate with environmentalists in the Northwest, with lawsuits blocking several efforts to change forest regulations.
Most prominently, a federal judge in California in September reinstated a ban on mining and logging in roadless areas imposed by President Clinton.
But Bosworth also won plaudits for helping the agency regain some stability following fierce fights between industry and activists during the turbulent 1990s, said James Lewis, author of a history of the Forest Service, "The Forest Service and the Greatest Good."
"His job was to sort of calm everybody down on both sides, and try and get the conversation refocused on 'What are we going to do with our public lands?' " Lewis said.
With the era of large-scale logging at an end, Bosworth spoke of four threats the Forest Service faced: invasive species, fire-prone forests, pressures from outdoor recreation and loss of open space. "Restoration and outdoor recreation are the things we're going to be focusing on," he said Friday.
Suited for the job?
Some environmentalists criticize Kimbell for a history of favoring industry.
"She is a strong proponent of turning the clock back in the Forest Service to the good old days where exploiting and extracting natural resources is the raison d'être," said Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.
But Bob Ekey, northern Rockies regional director for the Wilderness Society, had some praise for Kimbell in her current job.
He credited her for barring off-road vehicles and mountain bikes from land designated as potential wilderness. She also helped arrange meetings between opponents in a logging debate in Montana.
A timber-industry representative praised Kimbell as a Forest Service veteran who has worked throughout the agency and is willing to hear all sides.
"She's well-prepared to be the first woman chief of the Forest Service — not that we're not going to give her a bunch of challenges, too," said Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council.
"Healthy Forest" leader
Before now, Kimbell's most prominent role in the Forest Service was working on the "Healthy Forest Initiative," first promoted by President Bush. As associate deputy chief for national forest systems, she helped craft and promote the plan, which sought to fast-track some logging projects.
Backers said it would help speed up thinning of overgrown, sickly forests to make them less vulnerable to fires.
Critics charged that the plan eliminated environmental oversight and was just an excuse to boost logging.
Kimbell trained as a forest engineer at Oregon State University and supervised national forests in Alaska, Colorado and Wyoming, as well as a stint in the agency's Washington. D.C., headquarters.
Kimbell said she assumes a role that has often been overshadowed by her boss, Mark Rey, a former timber lobbyist who is now the U.S. Department of Agriculture's undersecretary overseeing the Forest Service.
It's Rey who tends to draw the ire of Northwest environmentalists.
"Dale Bosworth was kind of the briefcase carrier," said Todd True, an attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice.
Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or email@example.com
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