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Nancy Hirsch named Oregon’s acting state forester

The Oregon Board of Forestry appointed Nancy Hirsch as the acting state forester Thursday. Hirsch will step into her role overseeing the state Department of Forestry on Tuesday.

Hirsch is coming back to the Oregon Forestry Department after her 2019 retirement. She has held several leadership roles over her 33 years at the agency. She was the first woman to serve as an incident management team commander from 2008-2010. She previously served as acting state forester for five months in 2010-2011.

“Given the conversations we’ve had this week and the vote of confidence here today, I am extremely excited and honored to be back and serve with the strong folks that exist within the department,” Hirsch said. “I can feel at ease with the opportunities and the serious work we have in front of us.”

Hirsch will replace departing State Forester Peter Daugherty, whose previously-announced resignation is effective Monday. Daugherty faced dueling criticism from environmentalists and the timber industry over conservation and logging levels on state and private forests. His time as agency head was also marked by financial and management problems.

In 2017, OPB reported the agency had sharply criticized a report from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality that identified logging as a known risk to water quality in coastal rivers and stream. DEQ never published the report after a draft drew criticism from the timber industry and the Department of Forestry that it was tainted by an anti-logging bias.

Forestry board members praised Hirsch’s work ethic. Member Chandra Ferrari said she supports Hirsch coming into the department even with the hard work ahead of her. It’s something that Hirsch can tackle in the time she will be as acting state forester, Ferrari said, noting the incoming acting forester’s previous work experience and leadership roles.

“It sounded to me like it will be very valuable for her to be able to have a conversation with appropriate parties related to what those priorities might be over this short term and to have some level of assurance that there will be appropriate resources and funding available to achieve those things in the near term,” Ferrari said.

Challenges that Hirsch will face as the acting state forester include the likelihood of a difficult fire season and the continued implementation of recommendations from both the department’s recent fire finance function and the Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response.

Hirsch acknowledged, in a prepared statement, that “ODF is at a critical moment,” and said she’s confident the department “can begin rebuilding trust and confidence in our fiscal responsibility and accountability.”

Earlier this year, lawmakers introduced a bill that would create more oversight in how the state manages its forests. Senate Bill 335 also would transfer authority to appoint the state forester from the Board of Forestry to the governor.

Board of Forestry members said they will open a nationwide search for a permanent state forester to place Hirsch.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Monica Samayoa