New Ranger takes the reins at Lincoln District
Last updated 8/31/2022 at 5:22pm
"There's a lot going on, for sure, but I'm excited," Rob Gump, the new Lincoln District Ranger, told the BVD last Wednesday.
Gump, a U.S. Forest Service veteran, took over from Acting Ranger Tory Kendrick last week and is still settling into the job, and he's looking forward to getting to know both the district and the community of Lincoln.
"Lincoln is...from the Forest Service side, a quintessential district. It's that place that has all those things you really enjoy working with. You have a lot of interesting landscape to work on, the wilderness, the front country, the wildland urban interface," he said. "On top of that is the community. I think it's a very strong community."
Gump, who has a background including fire management, silviculture, recreation and work with collaborative groups, said the Lincoln Prosperity Proposal is a great example of a community doing something itself.
"This is a unique landscape," he said. "Obviously we've got grizzly bears, we've got lynx, we've got bull trout ... lots of things that are federally listed, but I think there's room and opportunity."
Though Gump didn't get to know former Ranger Michael Stansberry, he appreciates the effort Stansberry put into developing relationships between the district and the town.
"I feel fortunate that a lot of that work has been done. What I'd like to do is strengthen those relationships and really engage with the community," Gump said.
Unlike Stansberry, who came to the Lincoln Danger District from the Park Service - an entirely different agency - Gump brings years of Forest Service experience to the table, including a strong understanding of the agency's processes, laws and regulations, and what they can and can't do.
"We really can move forward, building off those relationships," he said. "I'm looking forward to connecting with some of the community leaders and some of the groups. More than anything, something that's going to be important to me is to hear what people have to say here in the coming months."
Gump, who is married, said he's here in Lincoln solo. "So I'm going to invest my time here in the community." He explained that his wife has a place in the Bitterroot, and his daughter is living in Missoula, gearing up to return to college in this fall.
Gump may be new to the job here, but he's not entirely unfamiliar with Lincoln. He did some bowhunting here in the 1990s, and more recently, during the summers of 2015 and 2016, he worked on the Stonewall Vegetation Project. At the time, he was the silviculturist on the Beaverhead- Deerlodge National Forest, but litigation against a project there gave him the chance to lend a hand on the Helena National Forest. Though he spent most of his time helping out with the Ten-Mile South Helena project, his work on Stonewall acquainted him with some Lincoln District staff, including wildlife biologist Pat Shanley and fire management officer Jarel Kurtz.
Originally from Oregon, Gump studied forestry at Oregon State University. He began his career with the Forest Service in Oregon in fire management before switching to silviculture, which he described as "a finer field of forestry that works with trees to figure out prescriptions and harvest treatments."
He moved to Montana in 1989 and spent seven years at the Deerlodge National Forest before returning to Oregon for 12 years. During that time, Oregon shutdown most of its timber harvest, so he made the switch to recreation and served as a district recreation staff officer at the Eagle Cap Ranger District on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
Gump and his family returned to Montana at the end of 2008 and he went to work at the now-consolidated Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
"I jumped back into silviculture at Dillon in 2009 and was there for eight years as the Forest silviculturist and ecologist," Gump said.
Gumps experience has given him a familiarity with litigation related to national forest projects like Stonewall, as well as with the National Environmental Protection Act.
"I've been doing NEPA for a very, very long time," he said.
Gump said if they do the analysis right, disclose the effects, determine the effects' significance and come up with the mitigation to make sure those effects aren't detrimental, lawsuits may slow them down, but they tend to win them.
Since 2017, Gump has held a variety of roles, including Deputy Forest Supervisor at both the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in northern Arizona and most recently for the National Forests in Florida.
Gump's background in fire management may come into play early in his tenure here, arriving as he has on the cusp of what is shaping up to be an active fire season.
"I think all the indices are saying that, for sure," he said.
Gump said his fire background has always stayed with him, and he's always been active on teams. He also believes in sensible management through harvest and prescribed burns. He hopes to take advantage of every opportunity here to sensibly treat the landscape. He sees the Good Neighbor Authority, shared stewardship and work with local collaboratives as key to helping accomplish that.
"I'd like to do what I can ... to make sure we've got an active program for taking care of our fuel issues as best we can. Some of it is, well, it's a god-awful mess."
He acknowledged that the amount of dead timber makes finding an answer really complicated. "We live in a forest ecosystem that functions with disturbance. It is not bugs, it's fire, and basically there were bugs because there wasn't fire. We set ourselves up in those stand conditions because fire wasn't playing a role."
Apart from challenges of managing the forest conditions, Gump said funding from the Great American Outdoors Act is providing a lot of opportunity for the future of recreation in the district, including the completion of the motorized trails that have been in the works for the past couple of years.
"I spent eight years in recreation myself. In that time I can't believe how dramatically budgets fell," he said. "Today, there is all that new investment in that. That's the shot in the arm we need to really help...improve some of our facilities and some of our trails."
People wanting to meet Gump will have to call for an appointment or wait for a local meeting he attends. For the time being the Lincoln Ranger District offices are still closed due to COVID-19. A draft re-opening document is in the works at the national level, but until the USDA lifts the restrictions, access to the office is limited.