They can’t get into the woods yet, but the Fremont-Winema National Forest’s two new leaders are making the rounds getting to know their employees and Klamath and Lake county leaders.
“We’re committing ourselves to getting out on the Forest and meet with as many employees as we can,” said Connie Cummins, 54, who spent her second day in her new job last week meeting with staff at the Klamath Ranger District and Klamath County commissioners as part of a get-acquainted tour.
Cummins and Eric Watrud, 36, who began work as the Fremont-Winema’s deputy forest supervisor Jan. 27, have traveled to ranger district offices in the two counties. Feb. 3, Cummins’ second day on her new job, she and Watrud were in Klamath Falls, where they met with Klamath Ranger District employees and Klamath County commissioners, and a day later visited ranger district offices in Chiloquin and Chemult.
Both are based at the Interagency Office in Lakeview. She replaces Fred Way, who moved to the regional office in Portland, while Watrud fills the vacancy created by the departure of Rick Newton.
They met with staff at ranger stations in Bly and Lakeview Thursday, met with Paisley and Silver Lake staff Tuesday, and will meet with Lake County commissioners today.
“It’s really trying to get a lay of the land and a feeling for people’s thoughts,” Cummins said. “Both Eric and I felt it was important to get out as soon as possible.”
“We’re really interested in hearing from the community,” Watrud agreed. “Our goal is to build a good foundation.”
Watrud and Cummins said key issues include the Forest’s timber program, recreation and jobs along with continuing to revise the travel management plan, working with the Klamath Tribes and forest health concerns, such as removing fire-damaged timber and doing rehabilitation work on lands burned by the 2012 Barry Point Fire.
Cummins said she and other managers will “see where we can more effectively and potentially increase our volume” on timber sales. While salvage logging resulting from the Barry Point Fire and extensive “red and dead” bug infestations are concerns, she said an increased focus will be on larger commercial timber sales tied to forest health needs.
“It’s certainly a huge priority to treat those fuels,” Cummins said, noting bug infested and fire-damaged trees pose a threat for forest users and employees.
Before taking the Fremont-Winema post, Cummins was a district ranger on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Northern Wisconsin, “So I’m familiar with the intricacies of getting out a large timber program,” including meeting environmental requirements.
She and Watrud expect recreation also will be a major concern. Because of ongoing cutbacks to recreation staff, they plan to emphasize partnerships and work with advocacy groups to develop priorities for future projects. Cummins said important considerations are the various communities’ economic relationships of recreation to tourism.
While she admits she has limited experience with grazing matters, Cummins plans to rely on staff expertise.
“It’s my belief if you spend the time, if you listen, you’ll come up with solutions,” Cummins said of her management style. “My experience is pulling people together and strong communication.”
“Connie has a depth of experience and fresh ideas and approaches,” Watrud said. “I think we’re going to make a difference.”