Missoulian: Tidwell appears poised to stay on with Forest Service

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell has not announced any intention to retire with the coming change of presidential administrations, which is another way of saying he appears to intend to continue in the job he’s got.

“We can’t speculate on the chief’s intentions,” Forest Service spokesman Byron James said on Monday. “He is a career employee, not a political appointee. There is no need to reapply for the position when an administration changes. As a  career employee, he will continue to serve.”

Tidwell was Region 1 Forester headquartered in Missoula before taking the job of chief of the Forest Service in 2009. That position reports to the undersecretary of Agriculture, which reports to the Secretary of Agriculture – a member of the president’s cabinet. Both the secretary and undersecretary positions are appointed positions that receive Senate confirmation.

“Once the secretary and undersecretary are appointed, if they want to make a change, they do. And in most cases, the chief decides to retire,” said Dale Bosworth, himself both a former Forest Service chief and Region 1 forester. The incoming administration can put them in a different job, and who wants to do that? 

“My guess with Tom is he would stay for a while, and if he’s asked to leave, he’d leave,” Bosworth continued. “I think he’d welcome the opportunity to work with the new administration. He’s a career Forest Service employee. Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you want to do the best job for the Forest Service.” 

President-elect Donald Trump is reportedly considering Idaho Gov. Butch Otter for Secretary of Agriculture after earlier speculation faded about appointing North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Other people in contention for the Agriculture post include Nebraska businessman Charles Herbster, former Deputy Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, former governors Sonny Perdue of Georgia and Dave Heineman of Nebraska, and Texas Secretary of Agriculture Sid Miller.

Neither of Montana’s senators, Democrat Jon Tester or Republican Steve Daines, had any update on Monday on who might get sent to the Capitol for cabinet confirmation.

“As the new administration takes shape, it’s critical that whoever heads up the Forest Service understand that Montana’s forests are economic drivers for timber, conservation and recreation,” Tester wrote in an email. “I will continue to work with whoever heads up the agency to improve forest management and fix the way we pay to fight wildfires.”

Tester added he was pleased at Tidwell’s recent decision to restore trail maintenance funds slated for cuts, but was frustrated at a slow response from the Forest Service when it comes to getting the farm bill forestry projects off the ground.

“I have confidence that President-elect Trump will actively support robust solutions needed to increase forest jobs and improve forest health in Montana,” Daines wrote in an email Monday afternoon. 

Tidwell has worked in the Forest Service for 38 years.