University of Vermont

University Communications

UVM Graduate Is First Woman to Lead U.S. Forest Service

Release Date: 01-17-2007

Author: Joshua E. Brown
Phone: 802/656-3039 Fax: (802) 656-3203

Abigail Kimbell, a 1974 graduate from the University of Vermont and former St. Albans resident, will become the first woman to head the U.S. Forest Service.

She will oversee 191 million acres of national forests with a staff of 30,000 employees and a nearly $5 billion budget.

Kimbell holds a degree in forest management from the School of Natural Resources (now the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources).

Kimbell expands the roster of UVM women who have pioneered top positions in federal natural resource agencies: Molly Beattie, who received a master’s degree from UVM, was the first woman to head the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1993 until her death in 1996.

“Natural resource fields have traditionally been dominated by men,” said Carl Newton, associate dean in the Rubenstein School. “We’re a small forestry program in a modest sized school. Gail’s appointment, following Molly Beattie’s, is an outstanding affirmation of what we do.”

Kimbell will become the agency’s 16th chief, succeeding Dale Bosworth, who will retire in February.

“Our school has always stood for developing the nation’s and the globe’s natural resource leaders,” said Don DeHayes, dean of the Rubenstein School. “Gail Kimbell is demonstration of that mission. She is thoughtful and dynamic.”

Kimbell began her career in the federal government as a forester with the Bureau of Land Management in Oregon, then worked her way up the ranks of the Forest Service, most recently as the regional forester of the agency's northern region, headquartered in Missoula, Montana.

“Gail demonstrated tremendous leadership in helping to carry out the Healthy Forests Initiative and provided support to the Administration and Congress in the development of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act,” said Bosworth in a Forest Service press release.

The Bush administration’s controversial “healthy forests” program followed the devastating wildfires of 2003 to allow commercially valuable trees in national forests to be cut in exchange for clearing fire-prone brush and small trees.

“Regardless of what decisions she makes or positions she endorses she will face criticism,” said DeHayes. “It speaks to her leadership that she can navigate successfully to such a prominent position.”

Kimbell has served as forest supervisor of the Pike and San Isabel National Forests and the Comanche National Grasslands, Colorado, as well as for Wyoming’s Bighorn National Forest and Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

Kimbell attended Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans, Vermont, and as a youngster enjoyed hiking, fishing and camping in the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire.

Newton was a new professor at UVM when Kimbell was a senior. He recalls that she was one of three intrepid students in the winter of 1973-74 who lived in the then run-down farmhouse at UVM’s research forest station in Jericho, making the trek to campus despite unplowed roads.

“We got a caretaker in later years,” he said with a laugh. Now the farmhouse is part of UVM’s new Green Forestry Education Initiative; Kimbell has stepped up in the world too.

But she faces many challenges. The Forest Service has amassed a more than $300 million maintenance backlog, many environmental groups object to her championing the healthy forests policy, and she inherits a complex set of legal issues surrounding the repeal of roadless area designations put in place during the Clinton administration.

“She has worked in all sorts of challenging positions,” said Newton, “and the Forest Service thinks she is doing very well.”