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History - Michael P. Dombeck, 14th Chief, 1997-2001

History Home > Leadership Time Line > Dombeck

A picture of former Forest Service Chief Dombeck
Dr. Michael P. Dombeck became the 14th Chief of the Forest Service on January 6, 1997. He was born on September 21, 1948, in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. It was here in northern Wisconsin's lake country that his appreciation for natural resources was cultivated. Dombeck worked as a fishing guide in the region for 11 summers from 1966 to 1977. He earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in biological sciences and education from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point and the University of Minnesota. He earned his doctorate in fisheries biology from Iowa State University and is noted for research contributions on muskies and lake habitat management. In addition, Dr. Dombeck has authored numerous scholarly publications and made frequent national as well as international scientific presentations.

He spent 12 years with the Forest Service: From 1978 to 1985, he was a fisheries biologist in Michigan and Wisconsin. During 1985-1987 Dombeck was the Regional Fisheries Program Manager, Pacific Southwest Region. In his last Forest Service post as National Fisheries Program Manager in Washington, DC, from 1987-1989, he was recognized for outstanding leadership in developing and implementing fisheries programs and forging partnerships. He also spent a year as a Legislative Fellow working in the United States Senate with responsibility for natural resource and Interior appropriations issues.

Dombeck served in 1989-1992 as a Science Advisor and Special Assistant to Director, Bureau of Land Management, Washington, DC. Then in 1993, he became the Acting/Deputy Assistant Secretary for the USDI Land and Minerals Management Service. He also served in 1993-1994 as the Chief of Staff to Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, Department of Interior. Dr. Dombeck was named Acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in February 1994. He focused on two major objectives: Creating a long-term BLM vision to improve the health of the land and reinventing the agency to reduce red tape, streamline functions and improve customer service. As new Chief of the Forest Service in 1997, his primary emphasis for management is to repair relations with external organizations. In doing so, he has introduced a new phrase into the Forest Service lexicon: Collaborative stewardship.

Michael P. Dombeck wrote: Today, we are faced with competing demands, new pressures on the land and greater challenges than ever before...we need to be the facilitators, the suppliers of knowledge and expertise, the educators and communicators who help people search for solutions.

Our mission is sound—Caring for the land and serving people. Carrying on with the "Course to the Future" is appropriate. Our first priority is to protect and restore the health of the land. Failing this, nothing else we do really matters...We will care for the land and serve people by listening to all our constituents and by living within the limits of the land. I call this commitment to healthy ecosystems and working with people on the land "collaborative stewardship." By definition, collaborative stewardship entails bringing people together. It does not imply abrogation of leadership or decision making authority...Aldo Leopold, once wrote, "the only progress that really counts is that on the landscape of the back forty." Most resource issues today are less dependent on technical matters than they are on social and economic factors. If we are to maintain and conserve the land's health, we must learn to balance local and national needs. We must learn to better work with the people who use and care about the land while serving their evolving needs. We must be catalysts in bringing people together.

We are the professionals, scientists and managers who can work hand in hand with state agencies, tribal governments, regulatory and other federal agencies, conservationists all who use and care about public lands and natural resources to assure the most efficient and effective conservation management possible. We have a lot to be thankful for in this country including the treasure chest of natural resources entrusted to our care. Our task is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the land through collaborative stewardship.


US Forest Service
Last modified March 23, 2013

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