Wilsonville – Rick Gibson, 59, of Wilsonville is the first Oregon Department of Forestry employee to receive the Golden Smokey Bear Award, the highest national honor for wildfire prevention professionals. The National Association of State Forestry, the USDA Forest Service and the Advertising Council give out the award, which Gibson received Oct. 16, three times annually to individuals who effect fire protection with significant national impact.
Gibson, the Forestry Department’s fire policy and prevention manager, oversees a program that seeks to minimize the number of wildfires caused by recreationists, rural homeowners and forest operators. He has represented the western states on the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s Wildland Fire Education Working Team for 14 years.
The department covers an area of about 16 million acres, but the amount of work does not demoralize Gibson. Instead, he said, the “awesome responsibility” fuels his drive to protect people and their property.
In 1997, he began to implement regulations within the Oregon Forestland-Urban Interface Fire Protection Act, which became law a few years later. The law enlists the aid of property owners in creating fire-resistant zones by removing brush and vegetation around buildings. This project is important to Gibson because it affects so many people. The law does not force residents to comply but rather assists property owners in implementing “common sense standards.”
Gibson also has extended help to rangelands in Eastern Oregon that have been largely excluded from Oregon’s fire protection system. He took it upon himself to help rangeland owners form associations to use local firefighting resources.
The forest has always had a special draw for Gibson, a native of Portland.
“Even when I was a kid, I wanted to be in forestry,” he said. “Maybe it was the Boy Scouts. When I went to Oregon State, I enrolled in the forestry program, and the rest is history.”
He began his forestry career in 1966. Since then he has held a variety of positions with the Forestry Department.
He was also recognized in 1992 for his work. A narrative accompanying the award noted that he “has touched many wildland fire education professionals in our nation and beyond.”