The first-time visitor who spent Tuesday and Wednesday checking out the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest came away mightily impressed.

The first-time visitor who spent Tuesday and Wednesday checking out the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest came away mightily impressed.

“What a remarkable place,” Mary Wagner said after wrapping up her tour of the forest, which included seeing it from the ground and from the air. “The steepness of the country and the richness of the water resources ... the scale and influence of wildfires ... remarkable.”

She also approved the efforts of forest managers, community leaders and resource managers from other agencies to reach across property lines to work together.

“That’s the best thing for the land — I’m pleased as all get out,” she said.
Although this may have been her first visit to the forest, Wagner is no stranger to the U.S. Forest Service: she is the regional forester in charge of the agency’s Pacific Northwest Region.

Since she was appointed to the post last October, Wagner has made a point of visiting all of the 17 national forests and one national grassland she oversees in Oregon and Washington, as well as 94,000 acres of national forest land in northwestern California, a total area of some 24.7 million acres. She also supervises some 3,600 employees and oversees an annual budget of $457 million.

Wagner and deputy regional forester Lenise Lago spent two days meeting with forest staff, community leaders and seeing the forest.

“Two days to get orientated is not enough time,” Wagner said in an interview with the Mail Tribune before heading north late Wednesday. “But two days is better than looking at a flat map in the Portland office. This visit helps put the landscape in perspective.”

Wagner, who has worked for more than 20 years with the Forest Service, said it is vital for her to get out on the ground.

“That is where it matters most,” she said. “ ... it helps me to understand the story, the very narrative of the people working with us.”

For instance, she met with members of the Applegate Partnership, an Applegate Valley group that was a pioneer in bringing environmental activists and timber-industry factions together. She also met with local elected officials, seasonal workers, full-time staffers and others with connections to the forest.

“For them to tell the story about the forest was very enriching,” she said, adding that it also allowed her to learn “where people are excelling and where we are still facing challenges.”

Among those challenges is dealing with catastrophic wildfires such as the 2002 Biscuit fire, which burned half a million acres in a mosaic pattern across the forest. She said it wasn’t until her visit that she was able to see the vastness of the fire.

She noted that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently stressed the importance of forest restoration to create healthier watersheds for both flora and fauna, and to mitigate and adapt for climate change.

“He used the example that together we can accomplish things that we can’t alone,” she said of working across boundary lines established by agencies or groups.

“We need to be thinking about what new work we need to do, and what old work we need to leave behind,” she said.

Wagner was scheduled to visit the Umpqua National Forest today.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.