Supervisor Higgins will stay in D.C.

“I think the highlights were the collaborative work that has gone on with multiple groups including YSS, Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions..."

Jeanne Higgins, the top administrator in charge of the Stanislaus National Forest that covers 42 percent of Tuolumne County and 11 percent of Calaveras County, is moving on from her role as forest supervisor.

Higgins, who has been on temporary assignment at Forest Service headquarters in Washington, D.C., since November, said in an email this week to contacts in Tuolumne County that her temporary assignment will end in a few months, but she will not return to the Stanislaus National Forest.

“I was asked to stay a few more months,” Higgins said Friday in a phone interview, speaking from the nation’s capital. “In the meantime, my husband, Bruce Higgins, he got a promotion to our Washington office and I am planning to follow him and support him. I will not be coming back to the Stanislaus at the beginning of next month as I had expected.”

Bruce Higgins has been employed the past 12 years in a Forest Service enterprise program that allowed him to work remotely from wherever Jeanne Higgins was assigned. In Washington, D.C., Bruce Higgins will be working as a National Environmental Policy Act specialist with the Forest Service, Jeanne Higgins said.

Scott Tangenberg, the acting supervisor for Stanislaus National Forest in Higgins’ absence, will now take over as her interim replacement.

“Scott will remain for short term as acting forest supervisor,” Higgins said Friday.

There is a federal government-wide hiring freeze the past few months as the Trump White House continues its transition, and that freeze is expected to remain in place until at least the end of April, Higgins said.

A Jan. 22 hiring freeze memorandum to heads of executive departments and agencies quotes President Trump stating “the Director of the Office of Personnel Management may grant exemptions from this freeze where those exemptions are otherwise necessary.”

Higgins said she expects the Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service will eventually “outreach to recruit and fill the position” she’s occupied since September 2014.

Arriving in the hotseat

She came to the Stanislaus National Forest in the wake of the devastating Rim Fire, the largest blaze in a century of Sierra Nevada records. Between August and October 2013 it burned an estimated 257,314 acres, including more than 150,000 acres in the Stanislaus National Forest.

Higgins has also seen drought stress and native beetle infestation clamp down and lead to pervasive tree mortality in the central and southern Sierra, including the Stanislaus National Forest. Scientists estimate more than 102 million trees have been killed in the Sierra Nevada since 2010, with 62 million trees killed in 2016 alone.

On Friday, Randy Hanvelt, Tuolumne County’s District 2 supervisor, remembered Higgins as a consensus builder who took time to get to know various groups and individuals, especially people in multi-stakeholder groups that included ranchers, timber interests, conservationists and environmentalists.

“Jeanne changed the game here,” Hanvelt said Friday. “She engaged all the stakeholders. She brought trust to the give-and-take in the wake of the Rim Fire. She always made time to share information. She is going to be sorely missed because she was always a partner.”

When Higgins began working with locals on challenges in the Stanislaus National Forest, she emphasized she believes watershed management is key to future forest health and recovery. Tangenberg said Friday he will strive to continue pursuing what’s best for the forest and the public.

“We’re sad to see Jeanne go, particularly for the excellent leadership she provided for the forest,” Tangenberg said. “We are very pleased with the direction she has placed us on and the great relationships we feel she’s built with the community. I certainly intend to fully maintain those relationships and keep the forest moving in the right direction.”

Higgins said it was a hard decision to remain in D.C. and not return to the Stanislaus National Forest.

“I’m going to miss working with the community,” Higgins said Friday. “I think the highlights were the collaborative work that has gone on with multiple groups including YSS, Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions, the Amador Calaveras Consensus Group, the partnerships with TuCARE, CSERC, the Tuolumne River Trust, the county-led tree mortality effort, water infrastructure and watershed restoration work and other informal collaborative groups and efforts.

“I’m hopeful the next supervisor who follows will continue that collaborative work, and I know Scott will in the short term, so I’m hopeful for the future.”

By Guy McCarthy, The Union Democrat, @GuyMcCarthy 

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