Jack Ward Thomas Goes to Washington

The Scientist Made Famous by the Spotted Owl Becomes Chief of the U.S. Forest Service

Upon entering the U.S. Forest Service headquarters in Washington, DC, a red brick Federalist battleship with a clock tower and a castle turret at the front corners, I half expect to find a few rasta-haired wood nymphs from Earth First! roaming the halls. The rhetoric was almost that of wild last November when the Clinton administration picked Jack Ward Thomas, a wildlife biologist who also led studies on the northern spotted owl, to be the new Chief of the agency. “We can’t survive him in Oregon,” huffed Republican Representative Bob Smith from Thomas’s own District in the eastern part of the state. (Smith, a rancher, often earns “0’s from the League of Conservation Voters.) “This is the most sweeping change of the Forest Service since its creation,” gushed Andy Kerr of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. So as I entered the Chief’s corner office, which overlooks the Washington monument, I was surprised to find that, in fact, Jack Ward Thomas is a Forest Service loyalist with a prominent dark green, fir-shaped Forest Service pin on the lapel of his plain blue suit.