Forest service officials in Minden to discuss changes

Representatives of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the second largest national forest in the United States, got together in Minden to let their new boss know what their concerns are for the incoming administration.

Forest Supervisor Bob Vaught, who replaced Gloria Flora in February after she resigned, said he is excited about the caliber of dedicated, committed Forest Service professionals he met recently at the U.S. Forest Service annual All Employee Day held this year in Minden.

The highlight of the week's activities was an open house Thursday evening with the public invited to voice its thoughts on public lands and other subjects.

"We have a total of around 250 employees, and I am coming away from this week excited about the magnificent, dedicated, hard-working employees we have," Vaught said at the open house. "We do have a tough job, and it takes dedication to do what we do."

Vaught, 48, came from the Coleville, Wash., Forest Service district, where he served as forest supervisor for more than three years. He grew up in Oklahoma, graduating high school in 1969 and after a stint in the Vietnam war came home and took the AlCan Highway to Alaska. He settled in Fairbanks and earned a degree in fisheries biology.

Later joining the U.S. Forest Service, Vaught worked in many different posts, including Nevada districts in Mountain City and Austin. Because of this time spent in Nevada, Vaught said he is familiar with state concerns.

"I was excited to apply for this position because I know the issues and the history here," he said. "I have a lot of respect for the people of Nevada and especially the people whose families have been here for several generations.

"In the Forest Service, we are really the intermediaries between land users and regulations, and 90 percent of what we do is in concert with communities and private organizations."

Vaught said one of the most pressing concerns he's heard from Carson Valley residents is on the subject of access.

"When you have rapid growth at the urban interface, you have concerns about access," he said. "Then there are other issues like fire protection, recreation access and watershed protection."

Speaking to the issue of negativity and the Forest Service, Vaught said that many other USFS districts have their own problems, including his last district in eastern Washington.

"Their issue was timber and in other areas it is land exchanges," he said. "Then there's the roadless issue, which is national. You have to realize that 87 percent of Nevada is public land - 63 million acres - and that makes it impact Nevada more than most states. But I am still optimistic and excited about this district."

Right behind Vaught is the new Deputy Forest Supervisor Karen Shimamoto, who replaced Mary Wagner in December. Shimamoto comes from nine years at the Deshutes National Forest in central Oregon. She has a master's degree in wildland resource science from the University of California, Berkeley and she, too, eagerly applied for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest position and said relations in the Nevada/eastern California district are largely positive.

"The problems have come from a very small minority," she said. "The rest of the district is very positive."

USFS Recreation Officer Steve Hale of the Carson City office said many of his cohorts were sad to see Flora go but view Vaught as equally committed.

Tom Kuekes, district ranger for the Spring Mountain district in Las Vegas, said he is hopeful Vaught and Shimamoto can help solve the recent traffic problems his district has encountered in the fastest-growing city in the U.S.

"We had bumper-to bumper traffic to Mount Charleston after a heavy snow last year, and we're going to have to figure out what to do next time it snows like that," he said. "This is a problem we haven't ever faced, but with the growth, we do now."

Displays of different USFS programs lined the walls of the Carson Valley Inn meeting room, covering topics including the Carson Valley Fishing Derby, mine dangers, the Northern Sierra plan amendment, the roadless initiative, the partnership between the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service, the High Sierra Workshop, senior volunteers, the Island Mountain Camp Chinese archeological project, native elk, and an awesome moth collection.

Autumn Hills resident Nick Koropchak said he came to the open house to "press the flesh" with the new supervisor and make sure he would support the effort of Koropchak's group, the Carson Valley Reforestation and Beautification Project, formed after the devastating 1996 Autumn Hills fire.

"I just want to make sure they let us keep planting," he said. "When I first went up there and started planting trees, they wanted to arrest me for trespassing. After talking to my senator, we've had great relations since then and I want to make sure they continue."

One of Koropchak's partners on the reforestation project is Tom Whear, a former Forest Service employee who was at the open house with his wife Dede, also a former USFS employee.

"Things have changed in the Forest Service since I retired 10 years ago," Whear said. "It's gotten so political, but it's still interesting talking about the Forest Service. We found that we are on the same page with the new supervisor and think he'll do a great job."


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