The six members of the Oregon Board of Forestry unanimously voted to appoint Nancy Hirsch as interim state forester in a short special meeting held Thursday morning. Her first day on the job will be June 1.
Hirsch, who retired from the Oregon Department of Forestry in 2019 as the agency’s deputy state forester, is no stranger to the role. This will be her second appointment to serve as acting state forester. She has served for 33 years in various roles with the agency prior to retiring.
The Oregon Department noted in 2018 that Hirsch was the first woman to serve as first woman to serve as an ODF incident management team commander, a Protection Division chief, deputy state forester, and an acting state forester.
Hirsch was appointed last to the post of acting state forester in 2010 following the resignation of then-State Forester Marvin Brown, who resigned under pressure from the Board of Forestry. Now, she will temporarily replace State Forester Peter Daugherty, who is resigning after facing similar pressures from the Board of Forestry and Oregon legislators.
Hirsch’s tenure will likely last until the process to find a new state forester is complete, which could be in the fall of 2021.
Board of Forestry member Ben Duemling said during Thursday’s special meeting that Hirsch had expressed that she would stay on through October, a statement that Board of Forestry Chair Jim Kelly swiftly clarified.
“There is no agreement with Nancy on a timeline,” Kelly said, adding “we’re not really supposed to do that, so that is not an agreement. I think we all would agree that we are going to work with appropriate due diligence and speed so that Nancy is not in this position longer than she’d really like to be.”
Hirsch accepted the appointment during the virtual meeting.
“I’m extremely excited and honored to be back in and serve with the strong folks that exist within the department,” she said.
“Although this is a temporary appointment, we’ve got a lot of work and we want you to be strong, we want to be to be bold, we want you to to do the work that we’ve all come to the position of judging that you can do and do a good job,” Kelly told Hirsch during the meeting. “So don’t be bashful. Get out there and do it.”
That timeline of Hirsch’s tenure in the interim role faces uncertainty in the wake of the introduction of Senate Bill 868, introduced on May 19 by a bipartisan group of senators. If passed and signed by Governor Kate Brown, SB 868 would strip the Oregon Board of Forestry of their statutory power to appoint Oregon’s state forester, transfer that authority to the governor, and reduce their role in the process to that of an advisory group.
The bill was originally scheduled to receive a public hearing on May 25 and a work session on May 27 before the Senate Committee On Rules, but both events were removed from the committee’s agenda. Currently, no action is scheduled on the bill, according to the Oregon Legislative Information System.
Daugherty’s resignation comes as the struggling agency he heads grapples with significant financial issues. His leadership has been questioned publicly by Jim Kelly, the chair of the Oregon Board of Forestry. Kelley was appointed by Governor Brown and confirmed by the Oregon Senate.
“We have concluded that it is in the best interest of the Board and Department of Forestry to allow the Board to select a new State Forester to lead in the coming years,” Daugherty wrote in his resignation letter. “This decision will put the Board and Department in the best position to move forward on the climate change work, revision of the Forestry Program for Oregon, and implementation of the Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response and MGO recommendations.”
Daugherty’s last official day in the office is May 31, though he plans to stay on as a state employee until July 30.
Daugherty was appointed to the position by the Oregon Board of Forestry on September 7, 2016. He has worked for ODF since 2007.
Chair Kelly directed his last comments to thank Daugherty for his service as state forester before adjourning the meeting.
“His years of service and accomplishments as state forester, and before that as a private forest division chief are much appreciated by the board,” he said. “We know the job that you’ve had is just the definition of a thankless job, and that’s why we want to make a real effort here to thank you. We understand there may be better ways to depart, but nonetheless, know your work for the department, the state, and for Oregonians is recognized and valued.”