Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas will be teaching wildlife biology instead of administering the nation's forests next winter.


Thomas announced in October his retirement from the Forest Service; he plans to accept an endowed professorship at the University of Montana in Missoula.


Thomas refused to comment on the political intrigue that has ruled the agency since he took the reins three years ago, only saying, "My long-term objective was to retire at 62." He also said he missed living in the West. "There are damn few elk (in Washington, D.C.)."


Thomas said the mission of the Forest Service had been "confused by the interaction of laws, regulations, court cases and management decisions by the Congress and administration." He said the agency had been politicized over a number of administrations.


Reaction to Thomas' resignation was mixed. Jim Riley of the Inter Mountain Forest Industry Association of Idaho and Montana said Thomas' agency had become a political pawn of the White House. "I was disappointed that the Forest Service didn't galvanize behind Thomas' leadership," he said


Though touted by some as a strong environmentalist, Andy Stahl, director of the Association of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, says Thomas wasn't a green leader. "As far as Jack was concerned, none of the bad press the Forest Service received had anything to do with its performance," says Stahl. "He was a cheerleader, but the agency needed a coach."


*Mark Matthews