Forest Service Under Obama Administration

By Beacon Staff

The Missoulian‘s Michael Jamison had a thorough and thought-provoking story over the weekend about how the U.S. Forest Service might function under the Obama Administration. As the story notes, the Forest Service is an agency that has been pushed and pulled in a lot of different directions in recent years, with the agency’s priorities often shifting, depending on which political party holds the presidency. So it should come as no surprise that the agency could take another swing when Obama takes office, and current Agriculture Department Undersecretary Mark Rey, a former lobbyist for the timber industry, steps down. Who will fill the spot? One name floated in the story and interviewed quite extensively is former Missoula Mayor Dan Kemmis.

And Kemmis sounds like he would be interested in the job, floating the idea of a theoretical Region 7, to try out new forest management ideas in a virtual area that exists unencumbered of the lawsuits and bureaucratic entanglements in which the agency so often finds itself mired.

The floating of Kemmis’ name underscores the attention beginning to shift this week to the remaining major appointments outstanding in Obama’s administration, and chief among them is Secretary of Agriculture. U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., is named as a frontrunner for the cabinet position. But Jamison writes that the administrator with a bigger practical impact on Western lands is, in fact, the Agriculture undersecretary. Here are some of the other names, in addition to Kemmis, being floated for that position:

There’s Chris Wood of Trout Unlimited. Before landing that job in 2001, he worked for both the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, eventually serving as senior policy and communications adviser to the chief of the Forest Service.

Then there’s Robert Bonnie, of the Environmental Defense Fund. He’s vice president of land conservation and wildlife for the group, which marries marketplace solutions and public land problems.

And of course there’s Kemmis, senior fellow at the Missoula-based Center for the Rocky Mountain West. His newest book, “This Sovereign Land: A New Vision for Governing the West,” was published in 2001 and was top choice for the Interior Department’s Executive Forum speaker series.

The recipient of several national awards and fellowships, Kemmis was invited to Washington, D.C., in 2000 to deliver the Pinchot Distinguished Lecture – named in honor of the Forest Service’s first top boss.

“I’ve heard from several people around the region and around the country who are interested in appointments that affect the West,” Kemmis said. “And a few people have suggested that I might be a feasible candidate for some of those positions, including that of undersecretary. But so far, I have not heard from Mr. Obama’s transition team.”

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