We're going to miss Tom Quinn.
The departing Stanislaus National Forest supervisor, although his decisions weren't popular with everyone, brought the forest much-needed honesty, candor and communication. Quinn, now bound for the top job on the Tahoe National Forest, was an in-the-field leader who put a high priority on building and maintaining lines of communications with forest users and neighbors.
"Tahoe's gain will be our loss," said Mike Albrecht of Sierra Resource Management, a Sonora-based logging firm. "He led us through some turbulent times and made some key decisions."
"We'll certainly miss Tom's charming personality and his ability to be open, honest and straightforward," said John Buckley, executive director of the Twain Harte-based Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center. "I haven't always been happy with the decisions made, but I've appreciated that he has been forthright and a good person to communicate with."
With such across-the-spectrum praise, Quinn leaves the Stanislaus National Forest in far better shape than he found it.
Five years ago it was not doing well.
A 2002 Regional Office review found that the forest had serious communication problems, had failed to deliver key and promised projects, and had alienated off-roaders, neighboring homeowners, loggers and other users. Its leadership, the review team concluded, was "perceived to be weak and ineffective."
Ben del Villar, then the forest supervisor, was soon transferred out. His deputy, Glenn Gottschall, launched an "action plan" to remedy the problems. Quinn carried that mission forward when he took the helm in early 2003.
Because the new supervisor came to Sonora from the U.S. Forest Service's Washington, D.C. office, some may have feared that an out-of-touch bureaucrat was taking over. The opposite was true.
Quinn in Washington had headed a program that distributed federal funds to resource advisory committees in forest communities. That and jobs on forests in Arizona, Washington state and Colorado familiarized him with the concerns of rural and mountain communities.
But on arriving in Sonora, he took nothing for granted: Instead, in the space of two months, Quinn made it his business to meet with as many organizations and individuals with a stake in forest policy as possible. While predecessors previously cloistered themselves in their Greenley Road offices, the new boss quickly became well-known in forest ranger stations, government boardrooms and throughout the community.
Next he went to work on a backlog of issues:
Interface Resolving a 10-year stalemate, Quinn brokered a successful compromise between off-roaders and residents of the Interface, a popular 8,700-acre OHV area in the Arnold area.
Check dams Trying to resolve a 29-year debate over the future of 18 check dams built by the late Fred Leighton between 1921 and the early 1950s, Quinn ruled that 11 dams could stay and seven would be allowed to deteriorate. Although later overturned by an appeals court, the decision was praised as a common sense compromise between still fighting all or nothing factions.
Timber Responding to community pressure and the recommendations of a Forest Service review team, Quinn released a five-year plan calling for annual timber harvests to rise from 10 million board-feet to 38 million in 2011. The plan, he said, would benefit the economy, cut fire danger and improve forest health.
Off Highway Vehicles Quinn has worked tirelessly to improve the forest's relations with the California OHV Commission, a key source of funding, and has issued a draft version of a much-needed forestwide OHV plan.
Of course these are only a small sampling of the issues Quinn has dealt with in his five years on the Stanislaus. Certainly he didn't make spectacular progress on every issue he took on, and it goes without saying that not everyone was thrilled with the outcome.
But few can fault the open and straightforward process that led to his decision. Tom Quinn reopened lines of communication between the forest and the community during his five-year tenure on the Stanislaus.
Keeping those lines open should be a Forest Service priority in choosing his successor.
Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board Publisher Geoff White; editor Teresa Chebuhar; managing editor, news Craig Cassidy; senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.