Montanan selected to head up US Forest Service

Tom Tidwell of Montana, who rose from district ranger to regional forest supervisor, is the new chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack named Tidwell to the post Wednesday.

Tidwell currently heads the 25 million-acre Northern Region of the Forest Service, which encompasses 12 forests in Montana, northern Idaho, northeastern Washington and grasslands in the Dakotas.

He's the third consecutive chief to be picked from the region, which is based in Missoula.

"To see another person from Montana become chief is quite exciting for us," Northern Region spokeswoman Rose Davis said.

Tidwell replaces Forest Chief Gail Kimbell, appointed during the Bush administration, who also headed the Northern Region, as did Dale Bosworth, who preceded her under the Clinton administration.

"Tom Tidwell's 32 years of experience in our forests and impressive track record of collaboration and problem-solving will help us tackle the great challenges ahead," Vilsack said.

Tidwell's "principle qualification" for the job is an ability to bring together groups that historically have been at odds with each other over forest management, said Keith Olson, executive director of the Montana Logging Association in Kalispell.

"He's got that quiet, professional demeanor that allows him not only to be a good listener but an excellent collaborator," Olson said.

Tidwell spoke at the association's annual meeting in June.

Bob Ekey, director of the Bozeman-based Northern Rockies branch of The Wilderness Society, also said Tidwell was a good choice, describing him as a strong supporter of protecting wild lands, including roadless areas.

Tidwell worked with conservation, recreation and timber interests during his time as supervisor, he added.

Tidwell, who has spent 32 years with the Forest Service, began his career on the Boise National Forest, and has since worked in eight different national forests in three regions as district ranger and forest supervisor.

His resume also includes a stint as legislative affairs specialist in Washington, D.C.

"People enjoyed working for Gail and people have a lot of respect for Tom," said Dave Cunningham, a spokesman for Lewis and Clark Forest in Great Falls.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., called Tidwell the "right guy for the job."

"Tom's leadership, his years of experience and his knowledge of issues facing forest communities in the American West will benefit all our national forests — and the folks who rely on them," Tester said.

Tidwell's field experience includes working from the rural areas of Nevada and Idaho and urban forests in California. He was supervisor of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Utah during the 2002 Winter Olympics.

He also spent 19 years as an agency administrator responsible for fire suppression decisions.