The Michael Dombeck Archival Papers at UW-Stevens Point

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This digital collection consists of material collected by former Forest Service Chief Michael Dombeck over the course of his career at the United States Departments of the Interior and Agriculture.  It reflects the day-to-day business Dombeck conducted and his commitment to the stewardship of federal land, water, and forests. Due to copyright, and protecting the confidentiality and privacy of individuals, not all of the Michael Dombeck collection is digitized.  The complete collection is available at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Archives.

The archival collection begins with biographical material including biographies, professional accomplishments and activities, vitae, and honors covering the period from 1970-2004, 2011.  It then focuses on the early years of Dombeck’s career.  In 1978, he takes his first position with the Department of Agriculture as a Forest Service Regional and District Fisheries Management Biologist for the Hiawatha National Forest in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Dombeck went on to serve as the Regional Fisheries Program Manager for the Pacific Southwest Region (1985-1987).  He advanced from regional manager to National Fisheries Program Manager.  In this position, Dombeck was a primary architect in integrating fisheries and aquatic resource protection policies in National Forests.  He was recognized for outstanding leadership in developing and implementing fisheries programs. This portion of the collection includes correspondence; lake management plans, inventories and evaluations; clippings, and speeches (1977-1989).

The collection continues through the years Dombeck served at the Department of the Interior (1989-1997).  In September 1989, Dombeck’s career took him to the Bureau of Land Management where he served as Science Advisor and Special Assistant to the Director (1989 – 1992).  From January 1993 through February 1994, he first served as Acting Assistant Secretary/Deputy Assistant Secretary of Land and Mineral Management (LMM), within the Bureau of Land Management, and then as Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary of LMM.  Dombeck went on to serve as Acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management (1994–1997).  In this position, he created a long term vision for improving the land and reinventing the bureau to reduce red tape, streamline functions, and improve customer service.  The material that documents this period of his career includes annual reports, correspondence, publications, scrapbooks, and speeches.

The bulk of the collection focuses on Dombeck’s tenure as the fourteenth Chief of the Forest Service (1997-2001).  It documents the core issues and policies of his administration. This portion of the collection contains letters and memos, congressional hearing testimony, policy background documents, reports, government publications, accountability initiative material, clippings, and speeches.  A variety of topics are covered, including fire management and wildfires, restructuring of the Forest Service, watershed improvement, and roadless policy.  This section reflects Dombeck’s commitment to watershed health and restoration, Forest Service accountability, sustainable forest ecosystem management, and development of a four-point Natural Resource Agenda, which refocused the Forest Service mission.

The controversial 2001 Roadless Area Protection Rule is well documented in this collection.  It was a conservation cornerstone of President Bill Clinton’s administration.  The Rule protected 58 million acres of National Forest land from road building and other development.  Due to the lack of support for roadless area protection under President George W. Bush’s administration, Dombeck retired from federal service in 2001.  Upon retiring, he was granted the highest award in career federal service, the Presidential Rank – Distinguished Executive Award.  Dombeck then served as University of Wisconsin System Fellow and Professor of Global Conservation at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (2001-2010).  In addition, Dombeck was named a Senior Fellow to the National Wildlife Federation, one of the nation’s largest conservation organizations, and he received the honorary position of Chief Emeritus of the Forest Service from the United States Secretary of Agriculture.

Mike Dombeck is the only person to lead the nation’s two largest land management agencies, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service.  A 1999 article in the New York Times noted that the president of the National Audubon Society, Dan Beard, thought of Dombeck as the most conservation minded Chief since Gifford Pinchot, the founding father and first Chief of the Forest Service.