Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas, the first wildlife biologist ever to head the agency, said Wednesday he plans to resign in November to take a teaching job at the University of Montana.
Thomas told The Associated Press he intended to make a formal announcement about his resignation on Thursday.
“I’m 62 years old with 40 years service. I’m going to do something else,” Thomas said in a telephone interview.
The longtime Oregon researcher who became famous for his work on the threatened northern spotted owl was picked by President Clinton to head the Forest Service in December 1993 as debate raged over logging policies in the Pacific Northwest.
He said he told Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman “several days ago” he intended to leave in mid-November to accept an endowed professorship at the University of Montana.
Thomas led a government panel of scientists that first warned Congress in 1990 that logging of old-growth forests in Oregon and Washington was driving the spotted owl toward extinction.
He has faced criticism from both environmentalists and timber industry leaders as he administers President Clinton’s logging policies dropping national forest harvests to one-fourth the levels of the 1980s.
Thomas said late Wednesday night no politics were involved in his decision to retire in November.
“It’s been damn interesting. It’s been highly educational. These are extremely interesting times in natural resources,” Thomas said.
“I’ll stay around until about mid-November to give us a chance to replace me and have a good smooth transition,” he said.