U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, who began his 41-year career with the agency in North Idaho’s St. Joe River backcountry, announced his retirement Friday.
Bosworth will be replaced by Gail Kimbell, another longtime agency employee with deep ties to the Inland Northwest. Kimbell is currently the Missoula-based regional forester in charge of North Idaho, Montana and the Dakotas. From 1985 to 1988, she worked in Washington as ranger of the Kettle Falls district of the Colville National Forest.
Kimbell, the first woman to hold the job and an architect of President Bush’s “healthy forests” program, quickly came under fire Friday from a Senate Democrat who represents her state. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said Kimbell has shown she is “inclined to raise fees, close campgrounds and otherwise make it harder for people to access their lands to raise revenue.”
Environmental groups have also criticized the healthy forests program as a giveaway to logging companies. The measure, which was signed into law in 2003 after wildfires swept the West, allows companies to log large, commercially valuable trees in national forests in exchange for clearing smaller, more fire-prone trees and brush.
By the end of next year, federal officials calculate that the new law and other logging initiatives will have resulted in more than 21.5 million acres of forest cut since 2001. But agency experts say millions of acres of national forest, including many parts of the Inland Northwest, are overgrown with trees following decades of successful suppression of natural wildfires.
Apart from dealing with the growing threat of wildfire – and an ever-burgeoning number of expensive homes being built in the West’s fire-prone forested communities – Kimbell also takes charge of an agency with a $300 million-plus maintenance backlog.
Colville National Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell worked under Kimbell while she was supervisor of Wyoming’s Bighorn National Forest. Kimbell has also overseen forests and grasslands in Colorado, Kansas and Alaska. Brazell believes her extensive work history will serve as strong training for the agency’s top post.
“She’s got a strong resource background and a strong background in the field,” Brazell said, adding that Kimbell was also a decent boss. “I liked going to work every day.”
As the agency’s 16th chief, Kimbell will be responsible for overseeing 155 national forests, 30,000 employees and a nearly $5 billion budget. The job doesn’t require Senate confirmation.
A New England native, Kimbell grew up hiking, fishing and camping in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. After earning forestry degrees from the University of Vermont and Oregon State University, she began her career in 1974 in Oregon, where she was a ranger, logging engineer and district planner.
A former colleague recalls Kimbell’s quick ability to grasp the nitty-gritty technical details of managing a forest during her tenure as ranger in Kettle Falls, Wash., as well as her skill at working with the public.
“She’s ground-tested and proven,” said Lou Janke, who continues to work at the Colville National Forest. “She’ll carry those skills with her to Washington, D.C.”
Bosworth also served as a ranger in the Colville forest – in the Republic district – as well as serving a short stint in Newport, Wash.
“It’s neat to have the last two chiefs have such ties to the Colville National Forest,” Janke said.
Bosworth’s son, Neil, was born in Republic, Wash., and currently serves as the district ranger in Lowman, Idaho. Bosworth’s father was also a career agency employee.
Bosworth became chief in April 2001. He will step down Feb. 2.
Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., praised the retiring chief for dealing better with severe wildfires, invasive species, development of forests and grasslands, and damage caused by motorized vehicles.
Bosworth was a key player in Bush’s program to increase timber sales and auction off oil and gas leases in roadless areas of national forests. The Clinton administration had put that land off-limits to commercial development.
Dewey Arrhenius was Bosworth’s first boss at the agency. The 73-year-old resident of St. Maries can’t speak to Bosworth’s accomplishments as chief, but he does remember Bosworth’s abilities to fight fire and cruise timber. After graduating from the University of Idaho with a forestry degree, Bosworth spent nearly three years working for the agency in Avery, Idaho.
“Dale was one fine guy,” Arrhenius said. “You better believe he was smart.”
Arrhenius recalls traversing the forest in winter on snowshoes with Bosworth. The two would have long talks, including arguments over whether trees made a sound if they fell in the woods with no person around.
Arrhenius also remembers Bosworth’s fondness for chewing tobacco. Long after leaving Avery, but before taking his first post as a forest supervisor, Arrhenius said Bosworth told his former North Idaho colleagues, “Well guys, I’ll be the first snoose-chewing supervisor.”