Mike Dombeck

Mike Dombeck

14th Chief of the Forest Service, 1997-2001

Michael P. Dombeck was born in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, on September 21, 1948. It was  there in northern Wisconsin's lake country that his appreciation for natural resources was cultivated. Dombeck worked as a fishing guide in the region for 11 summers. He earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in biological sciences and education from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point and the University of Minnesota. He earned his doctorate in fisheries biology from Iowa State University and is noted for research contributions on muskies and lake habitat management. In addition, Dr. Dombeck has authored numerous scholarly publications and made frequent national as well as international scientific presentations.

Early in his working life, Mike Dombeck taught biology, chemistry, science, zoology, and fisheries management at public schools and universities. He joined the Forest Service in 1978 as a fisheries biologist, spending 12 years with the agency, primarily in the Midwest and West. As the national fisheries program manager in Washington, D.C., he was recognized for outstanding leadership in developing and implementing fisheries programs and forging partnerships. In 1989, Mike Dombeck began serving as science advisor and special assistant to the director of the Bureau of Land Management.

Dombeck was named Acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in February 1994. In that position, he focused on two major objectives: creating a long term BLM vision to improve the health of the land and reinventing the agency to reduce red tape, streamline functions and improve customer service.

As Forest Service chief, Mike Dombeck focused his efforts on promoting partnerships, collaborative stewardship, accountability, and financial health. Early in 1998, Dr. Dombeck introduced the Forest Service Natural Resource Agenda. This agenda identified four emphasis areas:

  • Watershed Health and Restoration
  • Development of a Long-term Forest Roads Policy
  • Sustainable Forest Management
  • Recreation

About cooperation and sustainability, Chief Dombeck had this to say:
"Watershed maintenance and restoration are the oldest and highest callings of the Forest Service. The agency is, and always will be, bound to them by tradition, law, and science. The national forests truly are the headwaters of the nation. Congress recognized this well over 100 years ago and in the intervening years repeatedly reinforced that message. Our agenda places a renewed emphasis on ensuring that our watersheds are protected and restored for the use and benefit of our citizens.

We cannot simply preserve our wilderness areas and national parks and by extension hope to protect our natural resource heritage. We cannot afford to manage our national forests and other public lands in isolation of state and private lands. We must work with state and local governments and communities to link neighborhood creeks and tree lined streets to the sea bound rivers, state and national parks, and forests.

Our agenda takes the not-so-new position that we must do more to sustain and restore the fabric of the whole landscape. If we are wise enough to understand the physics of splitting the atom, advanced enough to communicate instantaneously around the globe, if we can feed billions of people, surely we can act with enough foresight and wisdom to protect and restore our lands and waters. If this nation, of all others, cannot demonstrate how to live in harmony with the natural world that sustains us, what hope is there for other nations?"

Additional Resources

"Roadless Area Conservation" by Mike Dombeck, January 5, 2001.

Mike Dombeck U.S. Forest Service Headquarters Collection Biographical File [PDF].