Dale to the Chief

An interview with Missoula’s Dale Bosworth on Bush, the Bitterroot, and becoming the new U.S. Forest Service Chief


For recently promoted Region I Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, the realities of Washington D.C., were only a few days away last Friday, when he met with the Independent. If there is a honeymoon for Bosworth as new chief of the Forest Service, it’s likely to be a very short one. His new boss in the White House seems to have made undoing the environmental protections of the past decade a priority.

Suspending new laws on mining and the roadless initiative, threatening to drill the Rocky Mountain Front for oil and gas, and promising to open public lands for energy exploration are listed as Bush accomplishments in his first 100 days in office. Bush also had no trouble rescinding a campaign promise and simultaneously embarrassing Bosworth’s soon-to-be colleague, EPA head Christine Todd Whitman, over the reduction of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, an issue to which Whitman had recently dedicated herself to making progress.

According to former Forest Service Chief and current UM forestry professor Dr. Jack Ward Thomas, what may await Bosworth if Bush succeeds in his assault on environmental protections of the Clinton era is “a backlash, the likes of which haven’t been seen since Clinton signed the [logging without laws rider] in 1995, or bigger—more like when [James] Watt was Interior Secretary.” Still, Bosworth has earned a reputation as a Forest Service administrator with credibility on both sides of natural resource issues. The Bush administration may lean on that experience to implement what will likely be a vastly different policy than the previous administration’s.

Bosworth received support from another Montanan gone to Washington, Max Baucus, also in the political spotlight as Republicans eye his Senate seat as one of the few that might be won over to their side in the mid-term elections in 2002. “Dale has been a strong advocate of practices that protect forest health, our economy and jobs, and the public’s access to our federal lands,” said Baucus in an April 12 press release. “He’s been a good steward of the land. And although we’ll miss him in Region One and in Montana, I’m confident he’ll take Montana’s common-sense values with him to Washington.”

In the week preceding Bosworth’s departure, he was busy enough that he should be lucky if he gets anything more than himself and his “common sense values” to Washington. National and local press all wanted a piece of him, and the details of picking up and moving to the nation’s capital for a few years usurped much of his time. Among other things, Bosworth realized they dress different in Washington and spent Friday morning getting fitted for a new suit.

Still, the move is temporary. “I’m not selling the house here in Montana, I’m coming back,” said Bosworth. “This is where I’ll retire when I’m all done.”

You’ve been head of Region I for three and a half years. Granted, that’s not a long time, but how is the region different than when you got here? Well, in three and a half years you’re not going to see a lot of change on the land. ... There’s a lot of burned country up in the Bitterroot, that’s different than when I came.

There could be a lot of cut timber there, too, if 130 million board feet get cut. (The Forest Service has proposed to cut 130-180 million board feet out of the Bitterroot National Forest next year.)
Well, remember that’s only one end of the alternatives.

130 to 180 million... It’s the low end. Well, I can’t remember exactly what they’ve done. There’s a lot of numbers to remember, but there’s an awful lot to burn, a huge amount in the region, something like 2 billion board feet.

So cut at a loss?
It depends. What we need to be looking at when we’re talking about salvage is what needs to be left on the land, from an ecological standpoint, and then decide whether or not you can remove some of the materials. Then once you know, or come to some sort of agreement over what’s to be left, and you remove what isn’t needed, then that should be OK, because you’ve still got your recovery. They’re not proposing to built a bunch of roads or anything like that up in the Bitterroot.

But let me go back to what I think is different about the region. What I’m hoping and feel like we’ve gotten started is some pretty good work toward collaborative processes, stewardship contracts, trying to get some collaboration going, try to focus on what you leave on the land rather than what you take. I hope those things continue. [Collaboration] doesn’t exclude, it includes both the community of place and the community of interest, to try to reach solutions.

Before the elections you said that you supported the roadless initiative from a fiscal standpoint. If George Bush were to ask you ‘what should I do about the roadless initiative, what would you tell him?
I probably don’t want to answer that one.

You’ve supported it in the past.
Yeah, I supported ... I would probably make some changes to it. To be honest with you, I was disappointed that the final decision included no logging. The issue to me is roadless, and whether or not we’re going to build permanent roads into these roadless areas, and if so, which ones? The proposal that was out did not propose to ban logging—you could use a helicopter or something like that. I believe that the issue of logging should have been dealt with at the local forest planning level, and it wasn’t a matter of public forest policy. So I had some disappointments.

If I had to sign it I would have done it a little differently. I still want to find a solution to it regardless of what happens in the administration. We’ve got lawsuits, and we’re going to have to work through those. So it’s kind of difficult to sit here and say, “This is what I’d advise.” ... I’d want to have really good basis for my recommendation. My advice would need to be couched in terms with what’s legal and where we are in terms of lawsuits, what the public perceptions are, and then ask where do we go from here?

One of the proposals of Bush’s energy policy is to reopen the Rocky Mountain Front on the Lewis and Clark National Forest to oil and gas drilling, a move the administration claims could be accomplished without congressional approval through the Secretary of the Interior. Well, there’s two parts to the Lewis and Clark National Forest—one that’s on the Front and ... my recollection is that four or five years ago there was a 20-year moratorium put on mineral extraction from the Lewis and Clark. There was also an EIS [environmental impact statement] done, and before any changes were made, I think they’d have to at least look at that.
You’ve earned a reputation as someone who can speak to both sides of an issue, but could you conceive of a situation where you might disagree with a policy that was detrimental to some of America’s wild places or the American people? I guess what you’re asking me is, do I have some kind of a line or some kind of strong enough belief where I might say, “I don’t buy it.”

Hopefully all of us have that line, a point where you can say, “I’m not going to sacrifice my ideals, it’s not worth it.” Part of my belief is that if I’m going to work for this organization, then I’ll do what I can to support the decisions that are made. If I can’t, then I wouldn’t be working for the organization. If there were some things either way, whether there was a Democratic or Republican administration, that went beyond my tolerance, whatever that might be, then I would just say, “It’s time for me to hang up my hat and go do something else.” If someone asked me to say something that wasn’t true, that would be it.


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