University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

One of Forestry’s Finest

Steve Boutcher in the woods
Photograph by Sally McCay


One of Forestry’s Finest

By Thomas Weaver

As Steve Boutcher ’82 reflects on his career across more than three decades with the U.S. Forest Service, he tells the story of an unlikely letter of recommendation that provided the proverbial foot in the door.

The connection came via Frank Armstrong, an eccentric forestry professor who essentially wrote a blanket advertisement extolling the virtues of UVM forestry students, then mailed it to potential summer employers. Boutcher laughs as he recalls the student survey Armstrong built his letter upon with questions like “Can you start a fire with two sticks? Have you caught a fish bigger than twelve inches? Were you an Eagle Scout? Can you speak a second language?”

Maybe embellished a bit with time and Boutcher’s sense of humor, but still, strange. Strange enough to draw the attention of the Nevada-based Forest Service staff sorting through piles of timid entreaties, distinguish the UVMers from the pack, and land Boutcher and several of his classmates seasonal jobs. “It was this weird letter that totally changed my life, put me on that path,” he says. “All because that professor put his energy into getting us summer employment.”

That job between his junior and senior years placed Boutcher on the front lines of one aspect of forestry, fighting fires in the Southwest. He was part of the team that first responded when smoke was spotted in the Toiyabe National Forest, mountains that rise 12,000 feet outside of Las Vegas. Boutcher would sign on for two more summers of fire duty and begin working his way toward a year-round position with the FS.

Now the service’s national lead on Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River Information Management, most of Boutcher’s career has been focused on the bigger picture. A key project for years has been developing and maintaining a comprehensive data base to mark the progress of all 445 of the Forest Service’s wilderness areas being managed to standard, critical to gaining the resources necessary to fulfill their mission. Given its success, other resource programs within the FS have developed their own programs after the model.

Though he works with the Forest Service’s central administration in Washington, D.C., Boutcher and his family have called Burlington home for the past sixteen years after having worked in Nevada, California, Washington, and Oregon. Returning full circle to undergrad days, he is headquartered in FS offices in UVM’s Aiken Building, home to the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources.

As Boutcher plans his retirement at year’s end, longtime colleagues are seeing him off with ample praise. “Few people in the Forest Service have touched the lives of so many employees and gained such immense admiration and respect from such a large following of admirers as Steve has created over his tenure,” Ralph Swain, FS Rocky Mountain regional program manager, writes in an email. “He is affectionately called ‘The Shaman’ for a reason. He is the wise sage, with deep institutional knowledge and boundless energy. He draws people to him like a magnet. The UVM community should know that one of theirs reached the pinnacle of his craft and left behind a legacy in the Forest Service that will help to safeguard the National Wilderness Preservation System and the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System for years to come.”

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