JOHN DAY - Getting ready to retire at the end of December, Malheur National Forest Supervisor Doug Gochnour feels he's going out on a high note.
"I feel good about the Malheur. We've made great strides in a lot of areas," he said.
He recently announced his retirement decision to the forest staff. The Forest Service's regional office has confirmed that MNF Deputy Supervisor Teresa Raaf will take over as acting supervisor in January, pending the selection of a permanent successor.
Gochnour said last week that while he is retiring from the Forest Service, he and his wife don't plan to leave the area - or to be idle.
"Ann and I have some travel plans," he said, noting that they each have elderly parents in other states. But the Gochnours enjoy their church here and the John Day Golf Club, and Gochnour plans to continue officiating for high school sports and to volunteer on forest projects.
Gochnour said he has a few business ideas to explore, ones he thinks would work well here.
"I love living in Grant County," he said.
A Forest Service employee since his college days, Gochnour said he had been eligible for retirement for a year or so. He said that after 39 fire seasons, he's ready to do other things - and that while the last couple of years have been satisfying, they also have been hectic.
Gochnour was named to the helm of the Malheur in spring 2008, arriving from the Boise National Forest.
Under his leadership, the Malheur staff won some $28 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds for capital improvements, forest work and other projects, including a $5 million grant for the pellet-fuel plant under construction at Ochoco Lumber Company's John Day millsite.
"Regardless of whether you like the stimulus bill or not, once it passed, our employees saw it as an opportunity to do a lot of things we otherwise wouldn't be able to do," he said.
Planning and implementing the ARRA projects has meant long hours for employees, he said.
"We even cancelled Christmas leave for two employees, for them to work on contracts," he said.
He's pleased to see the construction work going on across the forest, as campgrounds, roads and old buildings get refurbished.
"And we hired 52 temporary employees this year, and at least 85 percent of them are from Grant and Harney counties," he said. Those workers are getting job experience and also doing valuable tasks, such as resource inventories, that will help get future projects off the ground on the Malheur, he said.
Gochnour also feels good about the progress on the forest's long-term stewardship contracting.
"There are a bunch of people working that otherwise might not be," he said.
He also lauded the efforts of the forest's two collaborative groups, which he said are getting projects under way despite historic differences between the participants.
While harvest objectives always seem to be a controversial topic in Grant County, Gochnour said he's proud that the forest has exceeded its timber targets in the past three years. This year's target is 28 million board feet; Gochnour said he expects to reach 39 million.
"And we haven't had a timber sale litigated since I've been here," he added.
He also believes the range program is on an upward trend. He lauded the permittees who have "stepped up and been monitoring their cows, keeping them out of the areas they're not supposed to be in."
"Our staff is working hard to help those permittees be successful," he said.
Gochnour said the risk of catastrophic fires is a huge issue facing the forests.
"The Forest Service has changed remarkably in my time," he said. "Fires today are a lot bigger, and a lot more expensive to fight.
"We need to do a lot more fuel treatments than we're allowed to do now."