Obama Choice For U.S. Forest Service, NO Forestry Background

Management, timber harvest, roadless issues

Obama Choice For U.S. Forest Service, NO Forestry Background

Postby Todd » Wed May 06, 2009 11:22 pm

Obama names nominee to oversee national forests
By JEFF BARNARD
AP ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER

GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- The Obama administration's pick to be the new agriculture undersecretary in charge of the U.S. Forest Service breaks a long-standing tradition of someone with a forest policy background.

Homer Lee Wilkes, the Mississippi state conservationist, was named late Tuesday as the nominee for undersecretary of Agriculture for natural resources and environment. He is the first black nominee for the post.

Wilkes is a 28-year veteran of the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, which focuses on farmland conservation. The undersecretary also oversees the conservation service.

If confirmed by the Senate, Wilkes will face a list of tough national forest issues: the growing costs and threat of wildfire in a warming climate, widespread insect infestations killing wide swaths of pine forest, battles over putting millions of acres of roadless areas off-limits to logging, and whether to keep paying subsidies to rural timber counties.

Wilkes earned his bachelor's, master's of business administration and doctorate in urban conservation planning degrees from Jackson State University and lives in Madison, Miss., with his wife and three sons.

"As far back as anyone cares to recall, the undersecretary position was held by a Forest Service expert," said Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.

The conservation group filed several lawsuits against the Forest Service while Mark Rey, a former timber industry lobbyist, held the undersecretary job during the Bush administration.

Stahl said choosing Wilkes was "an indication of the relatively low priority the Obama administration places on the national forests."

Rey had tried to remake Forest Service policy to increase logging, particularly in the old growth stands held dear by environmental groups, but he was largely thwarted by federal court rulings.

Meanwhile, national forests were starved for funding for everything from trail maintenance to timber sale planning as half the agency's budget went to fight wildfires.

The front-runner for the job had been a more traditional candidate, Chris Wood, a former senior policy adviser to Clinton administration Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck.

But Wood was dropped after vetters learned he had been registered as a lobbyist by Trout Unlimited, the conservation group for which he works as chief operating officer.

With a few notable exceptions, Obama has ruled out appointing lobbyists to administration posts.

Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry group, said he was confident after a short meeting with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that he would provide firm direction to the Forest Service.

Partin said he expected Vilsack would increase funding for logging and thinning projects starved for money under the Bush administration, and work to resolve the problem of around $1 billion a year in wildlife spending taking money away from other priorities.

The Obama administration has backed a plan to create a separate fund for wildfires which experts say should help the agency keep to its planned budget more easily. Vilsack also announced this week that $224 million in federal stimulus funding was going to forest thinning projects.

Conservation groups were surprised by Wilkes' nomination, but encouraged by his background in conservation and Obama's commitment during the campaign to keeping logging out of millions of acres of national forest roadless areas.

Many scientists say those areas are more valuable as a source of clean water and wildlife habitat than for timber.

Mike Anderson of The Wilderness Society said Obama has expressed support for keeping logging projects out of roadless areas many scientists deem more valuable for clean water and wildlife habitat, and he hoped Wilkes would do the same.

Anderson noted that administration lawyers last week asked for a delay in a lawsuit pending in Idaho, where environmentalists were trying to overturn the Bush administration's efforts to open roadless areas of national forests to logging, mining and other projects.

"This is probably a non-controversial figure who is not going to be like Mark Rey," said Anderson. "I think we are just glad they are filling the position. The delay has been a concern to us. There are a lot of important issues that the administration needs to deal with."

www.seattlepi.com/local/6420ap_or_natio ... tment.html
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"Nothing is easier than spending public money. It does not appear to belong to anybody. The temptation is overwhelming to bestow it on somebody." Calvin Coolidge
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Postby Todd » Wed Jun 10, 2009 3:08 pm

USDA undersecretary nominee withdraws

By NOELLE STRAUB AND ALLISON WINTER, Greenwire
Published: June 8, 2009

President Obama's nominee to lead the Forest Service and farmland conservation programs has withdrawn his name from consideration.

Homer Lee Wilkes, the Mississippi state conservationist and a 28-year veteran of the U.S. Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), was nominated in May as Agriculture undersecretary for natural resources and environment. The post directs the Forest Service and conservation projects at NRCS.

But Wilkes withdrew his name for personal reasons, the White House confirmed today.

Career administration officials said USDA had been trying to promote Wilkes to its headquarters for years but that Wilkes had been hesitant to uproot his family and move to Washington. Lobbyists who follow USDA said the withdrawal came after a bump in the road came up in Wilkes' background investigation.

The selection of a career NRCS employee for the job was a shift from the previous two administrations. Jim Lyons, who had worked on forestry issues on Capitol Hill and for the Society of American Foresters, held the post during the Clinton administration. A former timber lobbyist, Mark Rey, held the job in the Bush administration.

Wilkes was unknown to many forestry, environmental and farmland conservation groups in Washington. Conservation advocates were pleased with his nomination, noting that he had worked in Mississippi to forge key partnerships with state agencies and conservation groups on wetlands conservation. They said placing a career conservation-service employee could elevate the visibility of USDA's often overlooked role in conservation programs. Forest groups generally praised his nomination, although some said it concerned them that Wilkes did not have a forestry background (, May 6).

He has worked with NRCS in Mississippi, Massachusetts and Texas. As Mississippi's state conservationist, he has taken particular care for forest and wetlands restoration, according to wildlife groups familiar with the state. Wilkes has a master of business administration and a doctoral degree in urban conservation planning and higher education from Jackson State University in Mississippi.

http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/06/08 ... 77264.html
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"Nothing is easier than spending public money. It does not appear to belong to anybody. The temptation is overwhelming to bestow it on somebody." Calvin Coolidge
Todd
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Posts: 14434
Joined: Mon Jun 25, 2001 12:00 am
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