Interview with new USFS Chief

Tom Tidwell, USFS photo

The Missoulian interviewed Tom Tidwell who has been nominated by the Obama administration to be the new Chief of the U. S. Forest Service. For the last two years Mr. Tidwell has been the Regional Forester of the USFS Northern Region, headquartered in Missoula, Montana.

Here is an excerpt from Thursday’s interview:

Missoulian: You’ve spent a lot of time fighting fire. Congress just finished restructuring how firefighting gets funded. Will we see any changes on the ground in coming fire seasons?

Tidwell: I don’t know if you’ll see any changes, but you’ll see a continued increase with our level of collaboration and cooperation with various agencies and the states and local fire agencies so that we can work together and have the most effective response.

Missoulian: Recent new legislation was intended to keep you from having to raid other budgets for the rest of the year’s activities in order to fund the fire season. Does that give you some flexibility?

Tidwell: Yes. The consequence of the last few years of having to transfer a portion of our budget for other programs toward the middle of each summer in order to pay for fire suppression has had an impact on other programs. Not having to do that will definitely help us be more effective and efficient with programs and be able to move forward with the benefits that derive from those programs on recreation and wildlife and watershed work and trails and roads and that sort of thing.

Missoulian: Tell us about the selection process. Who was in charge of the choice, and what were they looking for in a new chief of the Forest Service?

Tidwell: The Secretary of Agriculture (Tom Vilsack) was in charge. They wanted someone who had demonstrated they can work with people, be able to reach out. I expect to develop a collaborative approach. We’ve very successfully been able to move those concepts forward in the Northern Region. And also to have someone who’s been with the agency.

Missoulian: Homer Wilkes backed out of the undersecretary of agriculture job last week. That was the post formerly held by Mark Rey, and it oversees the chief of the Forest Service. Who’s going to be your boss?

Tidwell: Jay Jensen is our acting undersecretary. He’s my boss.