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History - Abigail R. Kimbell, 16th Chief, 2007-Present

History Home > Leadership Time Line > Kimbell

A picture of Abigail R. Kimbell, 16th Chief of the U.S. Forest Service

Gail Kimbell, born in 1953, grew up in New England, where she spent her formative years hiking, fishing, and camping on the White Mountain National Forest. She earned a B.S. in forest management from the University of Vermont in 1974 and an M.F. in forest engineering from Oregon State University in 1982. She started working seasonally on the Umatilla National Forest in 1973 and was hired by the Bureau of Land Management in 1974. In 1977, she joined the Forest Service as a presale forester in Kodiak, AK. She served the Forest Service in various positions in Oregon and Washington before becoming forest supervisor on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska (1992–97), the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming (1997–99), and the Pike and San Isabel National Forests in Colorado (1999–2002). In 2002, Kimbell began work as the associate deputy chief for the National Forest System in Washington, DC, focusing on the Healthy Forests Initiative and Healthy Forests Restoration Act. In 2003, she became regional forester for the Northern Region, and in 2007 she succeeded Dale Bosworth as Forest Service Chief.

Kimbell began her tenure as Chief at a time of growing concern about climate change. Evidence was mounting that a changing climate was contributing to ecological changes in America’s forests, including widespread tree mortality in Alaska and unprecedented damage across the West from drought, wildfires, and insect outbreaks. Such changes, coupled with a rapidly rising population, were also raising alarm about the long-term security of America’s water supplies. Demographic change, particularly the growing urbanization of America, was increasingly disconnecting citizens from the outdoors, weakening awareness of conservation principles.

Kimbell sought to focus public attention on these long-term challenges to conservation—climate change, water concerns, and alienation from nature. Under her leadership, the Forest Service redoubled its efforts in all three areas. The agency adopted a seven-point strategy for addressing climate change, revolving around science, adaptation, mitigation, policy coordination, operations (a reduced carbon footprint), education, and alliances. The agency also began developing a strategy for helping the nation sustain its water supplies while also improving water quality. Partnership programs aimed at connecting children to nature were reenergized across the agency, such as More Kids in the Woods, a grants program for educational projects nationwide.

Gail Kimbell said: The Forest Service has a strong mission that we’ve carried through the decades—our motto of “caring for the land and serving people” is in our blood, it’s our organizational DNA—the stuff that drives us, inspires us, and lends purpose to every program, every plan, every partnership we engage in. But our customer base is changing—the American public—the people we serve and their needs, their values, and their expectations. … Today, we manage the national forests for a broad array of values that society expects from public land—clean water, wilderness, wildlife habitat,  outdoor recreation. Forest Service employees have always considered themselves to be a part of the communities they lived in but we had to learn public involvement. We now lead federal agencies in our open and transparent process and in providing opportunities for the public to be involved.

And once again, we face a time of great change—a new environmental movement inspired by climate change and the link between the state of the environment and human health. We’re also experiencing a shift in values as America’s population grows and becomes more diverse, more technocentric, and increasingly removed from nature. Climate change, biodiversity loss, land conversion, freshwater scarcity, energy shortages, the frequency of floods and fires, a growing disconnect between urban and rural populations—we’ve moved into a new century with a set of conservation challenges that together seem unprecedented in their magnitude, their frequency, their intensity.

Can the Forest Service respond to the environmental ills of today? Can we keep pace with the changing needs of the American population? Can we remain relevant to a new generation? The answer to all of these questions is yes. But the solutions we used in the past might not be enough to solve today’s challenges. We need to look ahead. We need a fresh perspective. And we need to act now, in concert with our partners—with you—recognizing that we share a common vision, knowing that together, we can engage more people in conservation and foster in them a love for the outdoors.

From a speech at the REI Leadership Conference in Seattle, WA, on March 14, 2008

 

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Last modified March 23, 2013
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