Duffy says job change was voluntary

Former Siskiyou Mountains District Ranger Linda Duffy said she asked to be moved from her position that involved overseeing U.S. Forest Service land in the Ashland Watershed.

Duffy had worked as the Ashland District Ranger since 1995. The Ashland Ranger District was melded with the Applegate Ranger District in 2007 to form the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District as part of a national consolidation trend for the Forest Service. Duffy then served as the Siskiyou Mountains District Ranger.

On Sept. 18, the Forest Service announced that Duffy was leaving her post in Ashland and the Applegate Valley to work in Medford as the agency's Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Timber, Planning and Minerals Staff Officer.

The move was a lateral job change, not a promotion or demotion.

Because of its similarity to a past incident, the change prompted some speculation that Duffy had been put in her new position involuntarily.

Back in 1999, Duffy was reassigned from her job as Ashland District Ranger and put in a position with no decision-making power over the Ashland Watershed.

She had been cooperating with community members who were developing an alternative to a controversial Forest Service plan to thin wildfire fuels in the watershed through logging.

After a community outcry, Forest Service officials reinstated Duffy as Ashland District Ranger.

An alternative wildfire fuels thinnning project supported by most community members is now largely finished.

Community members submitted a plan in 2004 for a second thinning project in the watershed. A final decision on the project from higher up in the Forest Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture hierarchy is pending.

Speaking this week, Duffy said the situation of her new job change bears some resemblance to the time when she was involuntarily removed as Ashland District Ranger. But she said she sought the new job change.

"There is a similarity. It's just a coincidence. I asked for this," Duffy said. "I'd been a district ranger a very long time. Personally, it was time for me to make a change."

The opportunity to take the job opened up with the August retirement of former Timber, Planning and Minerals Staff Officer Rob Shull, she said.

In announcing Duffy's job change earlier this month, Forest Service officials lauded Duffy for her ability to build positive relationships with people and promote collaboration.

Recently she has cooperated with groups including Ashland Fire & Rescue, the Ashland Forest Lands Commission and The Nature Conservancy on the latest proposed thinning project in the watershed.

Ashland Fire & Rescue Forest Resource Specialist Chris Chambers said Duffy has played an important role in the community by working with individuals and groups.

"She's been receptive to the community's ideas," he said, adding that Duffy took a big step on the previous watershed thinning project when she invited community help to change the Forest Service's controversial thinning plan into one that was more palatable to residents.

The altered plan shifted the emphasis to thinning brush and small diameter trees close to Ashland, rather than creating logged fuel breaks.

Joseph Vaile, campaign director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands conservation organization in Ashland, said the Ashland Ranger District is one of the most difficult districts to manage because it faces wildfire risk and contains an old growth forest reserve, erosive soils and the city's municipal watershed.

"District ranger is a really hard job. It involves balancing the interests of a lot of different user groups," said Vaile, but noted that the position can also be rewarding.

The Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center will probably have continued involvement with Duffy in her new job because of her duties involving Forest Service timber. The center systematically monitors timber sales and appeals those it views as objectionable.

"While not perfect, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in general has been moving in the right direction in terms of the timber sale program," Vaile said. "Mostly they are doing small diameter, restoration-based thinning projects. We still have issues with logging large diameter trees, but we are working collaboratively."

Vaile contrasted that with the center's relationship with the Bureau of Land Management, which he said continues to be more adversarial.

Ashland City Councilor Eric Navickas, who has been a long-time critic of Forest Service thinning projects in the Ashland Watershed and has sometimes clashed with Duffy, said her job change means little because Forest Service officials have already shifted decision-making power away from the district ranger to higher levels.

He said he would like to see a shift back to local decision making. Whoever takes over as the new district ranger, Navickas said he wants that person to be open to community dialogue.

Tim Chesley, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Recreation, Engineering and Lands Staff Officer, is serving as Acting Siskiyou Mountains District Ranger until the Forest Service decides on a permanent replacement for Duffy.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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