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New national forest supervisor comes with diverse experience

New national forest supervisor comes with diverse experience

When Rob MacWhorter arrived as the new supervisor of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest earlier this month, he figured he came home.

"When I left this region 12 years ago, I decided I really wanted to come back at some point in time," said MacWhorter, 59, a 34-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service. "I made three different stops along the way, gaining lots of experience."

MacWhorter, who began his career with the agency in Klamath Falls in 1978 as a forester and district silviculturist, said he always kept track of the issues back in southwestern Oregon.

"The issues are not foreign to me," he said. "The resources we manage here are near and dear to my heart, things like scenic rivers, wilderness, management of timber, wildlife as well as working with the different communities we have strong partnerships with.

"In addition to being closer to my family, I decided this was a place I wanted to be," he added.

His wife, Susan Skakel, lives in Bend, as does their grandson. Their daughters both attend Oregon State University. The plan calls for his family to live in the Rogue Valley, he said, noting their older daughter plans to transfer to Southern Oregon University in Ashland.

A 1975 graduate of West Virginia University School of Forestry with degrees in forest resource management and ecological systems management, MacWhorter succeeds Scott Conroy, who retired at the end of last year.

Before joining the agency, MacWhorter was a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador. He also has worked as a service forester in West Virginia and Maryland.

He left Oregon in 1981, moving to the Eldorado National Forest in Central California to work as a district silviculturist. In 1983, he returned to Oregon to serve for five years as district silviculturist on the Bend Ranger District in the Deschutes National Forest.

In 1988, he began working in the Mount Hood National Forest, where he worked in natural resources, recreation, law enforcement and special uses. In 1991, he became district ranger on the Ochoco and Fremont national forests. He later worked in the agency's Washington, D.C., office as the chief of staff for the deputy chief of the national forest system.

In 2002, he moved back to the West to become the deputy forest supervisor of the Plumas National Forest in California. He became supervisor of the Dixie National Forest in Utah in early 2007 before taking the top job at the Rogue River-Siskiyou.

"I've worked on a lot of different ecosystems, a lot of different communities," he said. "But most of my career, other than D.C. and outside of Portland, have been in rural areas."

He sees challenges here similar to other forests in which he's worked.

"A lot of the issues are budgetary and workforce related," he said. "We have some tough times ahead in terms of funding. How do we get all the work done we have been asked to do with a limited workforce and limited budget?

"We are working through that now, and we will get there," he added. "I don't see layoffs, but I see attrition through retirements."

Another issue that hasn't gone away is the debate over the timber cut.

"The timber issue was contentious when I left 12 years ago, and it is still contentious," he said. "But both sides have moved toward the center.

"It's the right time to do it — it's the right thing to do," he said. "We can't have zero cut, but we can't cut all the big trees we used to cut."

He and Dayne Barron, manager of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District, recently sat in on a meeting of the Southern Oregon Small Diameter Collaborative. The diverse group includes everyone from environmental activists to timber industry representatives and federal agency employees seeking consensus on cutting timber in federal forests.

"That speaks an awful lot that we have various diverse groups and the two agencies sitting there, trying to get something done," MacWhorter said. "It speaks volumes about this area."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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