Forest Service chief Mike Dombeck, a proponent of a sweeping land-use plan the Bush administration may now be trying to undo, announced Tuesday he is stepping down.
Dombeck could have stayed until the end of April, longer if asked. Instead, he told his boss, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, he was retiring from federal service after 25 years, effective Saturday.
“It was made clear in no uncertain terms that the administration wants to take the Forest Service in another direction,” said Chris Wood, who served as Dombeck’s top aide until Friday. But “it is very cordial.”
Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry group based in Portland, Ore., said he had problems with the course that Dombeck and the Clinton administration took the Forest Service.
West said Dombeck tried to turn the forests he governed into national parks, instead of recognizing the value of their resources, including timber.
“Given the opportunity, we’d like the Forest Service to return to a resource professional and be sure that decisions are made by people that are focused on the ground rather than the White House,” West said.
As chief, Dombeck worked to conserve old-growth forests, increase staff to protect wilderness areas and improve funding to fight wildfires and protect communities near the agency’s 192 million acres of national forests.
Perhaps one of Dombeck’s most notable initiatives, but one facing multiple legal challenges, will be the completion of the roadless rule, a ban on road-building and logging in 58.5 million acres of national forest lands, except in rare circumstances.
The ban originally was to have gone into effect March 13, but President Bush postponed it until May 12 so he could review it. Timber interests had sought a court injunction to stop the ban.