Can Mr. Nice Guy lead the Forest Service?

Agency lifer Dale Bosworth lands in the hot seat

  • Beyond the Revolution logo

 

MISSOULA, Mont. - Dale Bosworth, newly appointed chief of the U.S. Forest Service, listens so intently to others that beads of sweat form on his forehead. At least that's how some of his fellow workers jokingly sum up the character of their new boss.

Bosworth, 57, the agency's 15th chief, took the reins in early April. He succeeds Mike Dombeck, a Clinton administration hire, who resigned in March before the Bush administration could fire him (see story page 12).

Bosworth, an agency lifer, has worked for most of the past 35 years in national forests across the West, including stints as regional forester for the Intermountain Region, based in Ogden, Utah, and for the Northern Region in Missoula. He has a forestry degree from the University of Idaho and is the son of a former forest supervisor.

Before the announcement, environmentalists were braced for bad news: Possible picks for chief included a former timber-industry lobbyist, and President Bush has already put on hold Clinton's executive order to protect roadless forests (HCN, 2/12/01: The power of love, and its opposite). Bush may also try to negate a 20-year moratorium on oil and gas drilling along Montana's Rocky Mountain Front instigated by former Lewis and Clark Forest Supervisor Gloria Flora (HCN, 10/13/97: Forest Service acts to preserve 'the Front').

But many greens have joined timber industry leaders and agency staffers in describing Bosworth as well-qualified and likable. "Dale is the consummate professional," says Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. "The administration chose him, not because he is ideologically in lockstep with the White House, but because he is a well-respected forester and administrator who is likely to have the support of his deputies."

"We were happy to see the Department of Agriculture choose a career forester," agrees Stefany Bales of the Intermountain Forest Association, a trade group for sawmills and private-forest owners.

Others are less optimistic. Listening to people doesn't necessarily make a good steward of the nation's public forests, warns Rick Stern of the Rock Creek Alliance in Missoula. The alliance has been trying for years to get Bosworth to quash plans for a proposed mine that would tunnel under the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness in northwest Montana.

"He doesn't have a big history of sticking his neck out on behalf of environmental causes," Stern says.

A straight-talker

Bosworth knows intimately many of the Forest Service's most heated controversies. For two years, he chaired the Interagency Grizzly Bear Recovery Committee, which is considering reintroducing grizzly bears to Idaho. Last June, he sat through a series of public meetings on Clinton's roadless initiative, listening to passionate pleas from both conservationists and loggers. Last summer he oversaw the worst fire season in the Northern Rockies in 90 years.

His approach to controversy has been straightforward.

"Look at the whole (roadless) proposal," he beseeched a gathering of thousands of loggers and their families in June 2000. "It is a fairly common-sense approach. It still allows commercial logging. It still allows motorized access. And it leaves the hard decisions to the local level, where they belong. But if you think it's a bunch of garbage, then tell us it's a bunch of garbage."

As regional forester, Bosworth seemed to embrace the growing field of ecosystem management. At the same time, he has remained adamant that timber will continue to roll to the sawmills, albeit not the way it used to - either in volume, or in the way it is harvested.

"I don't want to say producing timber is bad, but the Forest Service is focused on ecosystem restoration," he told HCN shortly before his appointment as chief. "Wood products will continue to come off the national forests, but from projects like thinning from below, restoring aspen groves, and enhancing wildlife habitat."

Bosworth also echoed some of the same concerns many of his colleagues have about environmental regulations. ÒMy frustration stems from the fact that the high requirement for environmental analysis takes huge amounts of time and money, but doesn't commensurately improve the decision-making process," he said. "For the amount of time and money it takes, I think it's out of whack."

Nonetheless, Cindy Swanson, director of watershed, wildlife, fish and rare plants in the Northern Region, says Bosworth always backed scientific proposals to protect endangered animals such as the Canada lynx and bull trout. "Dale has been proactive on conservation strategies," she says. "He's very good at being a holistic manager. He makes sure all the pieces of the ecosystem work together. He hasn't made a decision that I haven't supported and agreed with."

Can he hold his ground?

Still, Bosworth has disappointed some environmentalists, especially when it comes to restricting off-road-vehicle use. "His ORV policy has been a disappointment," says Jennifer Ferenstein, a national board member of the Sierra Club. Bosworth never set a regional ORV policy, and some Northern forests still give off-roaders free rein, she says.

Others say Bosworth may not stand firm if his bosses pressure him to mandate unpopular policies. "The administration sets the table, and I don't expect Dale to object or refuse to carry out administration orders," says Michael Bader of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. "I think he will be a facilitator for implementing the Bush agenda."

But others, both timber industry advocates and environmentalists, hope he can lead the administration in the right direction - that is, in their direction.

"It would be wonderful if he goes in with a proactive agenda, putting an emphasis on forest restoration work, putting local people to work and protecting watersheds and long-term sustainability," environmentalist Ferenstein says.

"He must step up at some point and lead," echoes industry advocate Bales. "Dale understands the forest-health and fire-risk issues. We hope he will push those issues to the top of the Forest Service priority list."

Mark Matthews writes from Missoula, Montana.

YOU CAN CONTACT...

    • Jennifer Ferenstein with the Sierra Club, 406/543-0079;
    • Michael Bader with the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, 406/721-5420;
    • Stefany Bales with the Intermountain Forest Association, 208/667-4641.

Copyright © 2001 HCN and Mark Matthews

High Country News Classifieds
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • MS ACCESS DATABASE PROGRAMER
    Looking for an access programmer. Contract position. Send resume with references and rates to: [email protected] www.prospace.biz
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.