The search for an interim state forester continues, with a vote on a candidate coming on Thursday, May 27 at a special meeting called for that purpose.
Among other duties, the state forester, who serves as the chief executive officer of the Oregon Department of Forestry, will be among the top wildfire officials in the state this fire season.
Current State Forester Peter Daugherty announced his resignation on May 7, with his last day coming May 31.
Currently, the Board of Forestry is tasked with appointing a new state forester. If by the time Daugherty leaves his position the board has yet to appoint an interim state forester, the responsibilities of the state’s top forestry position would fall to current Deputy Director for Operation Lena Tucker until an interim state forester is found.
Those interested in following along at the meeting can watch a livestream on the Oregon Department of Forestry’s YouTube channel, beginning at 7 a.m. Thursday.
Other than a board roll call and a deliberation on appointing an interim state forester, there are no other items on the meeting agenda. There will be no public testimony taken at the meeting, though written testimony can be emailed to BoardofForestry@oregon.gov before or after the meeting.
The name of the candidate to be voted on has not been publicly released.
Those who need to arrange special accommodations, services, or assistance can call ODF’s Public Affairs Office (503-945-7200) at least 48 hours prior to the meeting.
Once the Board of Forestry has selected in interim state forester, their next task is to launch a nation-wide search for a more permanent state forester.
However, that process could be moot if Senate Bill 868, introduced on May 19 by a bipartisan group of senators, is passed and signed by the governor. SB 868 would strip the Oregon Board of Forestry of their statutory power to appoint Oregon’s state forester.
“This is an evolving situation with a lot of moving parts,” said State Senator Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose), one of the three chief sponsors of the bill. The senator declined to comment further in a phone call with this publication. Johnson’s Senate District 16 includes the majority of the Tillamook State Forest and the Clatsop State Forest.
Also listed as chief sponsors are Kathleen Taylor (D-Milwaukie) and Jeff Golden (D-Ashland), neither of whom returned an email requesting comment. Joining as regular sponsors were Lynn Findley (R-Vale), Tim Knopp (R-Bend), and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-NW Portland/Beaverton). Findley declined to comment, and the other two senators did not respond to requests for comment.
The bill is scheduled to receive a public hearing before the Senate Committee on Rules at 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 25, and will be discussed at a work session before the same committee on Thursday, May 27 at 1 p.m.
The Oregon Board of Forestry, a seven-member board — one seat is vacant bringing current membership to six — met Thursday to discuss the process by which they would appoint an interim and a new state forester on Thursday, May 20, and the bill was discussed there as well. Board of Forestry Chair Jim Kelly said he didn’t believe it would change the current actions of the board.
“I am assuming that there is a very good chance that that bill could get passed, and if quickly signed by the governor that our role becomes that consulting role at that point,” Kelly said.
“We can’t make any assumptions about it passing or not, and need to proceed with the authority as we have it now,” Kelly added.
In a phone call with this publication on Friday, May 21, Kelly said that the introduction of the bill came as a surprise.
“It’s definitely the legislature’s prerogative,” Kelly said.
Kelly gave an overview of what’s next in the board’s search for a state forester.
“We are required by statute to have two public meetings where we are soliciting public input on the job description, what people want to see in the next state forester, anything related to that,” Kelly said.
He said those public meetings will be held in June and July, with opportunities for public comment at each.
Kelly said that the search process for a state forester doesn’t start in earnest until those meetings have been held and the board has received the public’s input on the state forester’s job description. From there, a 90 day search — likely a national one — will begin for a candidate, if the legislature has left intact the Board of Forestry’s ability to select the state forester.
The Oregon Legislature is mandated by the Oregon Constitution to adjourn no later than June 27, though the legislature’s calendar calls for a target “Sine Die” date of June 18. The governor is required to take action on bills sent to her desk no more than five days after receiving them. If SB 868 is passed and Brown signs the bill, it would take immediate effect, and the same would happen if Brown waited five days and let the bill become law without her signature. If the legislature adjourns after sending the bill to the governor before five days have passed, the governor has a total of 30 days to consider the bill.
There is of course, nothing stopping Governor Brown from allowing the Board of Forestry from allowing the search to continue as started and consider whichever candidates that arise from the search process for appointment.
Some of those on the Board of Forestry are not immediately opposed to the idea of placing appointment power into the governor’s purview. In a May 20 email to this publication, Chandra Ferrari, one of the members of the board, said she didn’t have a detailed opinion to offer on the bill yet, but said “I can see benefits to both appointment approaches.”
Ben Duemling, also a board member, declined to comment. Board members Karla Chambers, Joe Justice, and Brenda McComb did not respond to emailed requests for comment.