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Michael P. Dombeck is an American conservationist, educator, scientist, and outdoorsman. He served as Acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management from 1994–1997 and was the 14th Chief of the United States Forest Service from 1997 to 2001. Dombeck also served as UW System Fellow and Professor of Global conservation at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point from 2001 to 2010.
Born in Stevens Point, Wisconsin and raised in Sawyer County, Dombeck worked as a fishing guide for 11 summers in the Hayward area. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and earned a B.S. in biology and general sciences and an M.S.T. in biology and education degrees. He attended the University of Minnesota, earning an M.S. in Zoology and later earned a PhD from Iowa State University in 1984. His research included studies on the movement, behavior, reproduction, and early life ecology of the muskellunge, Wisconsin's state fish. He was Program Chairman of the 1st International Muskellunge Symposium held in 1984.
He married Patricia Rider in 1975 and they have one daughter, Mary.
After three years of teaching zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Dombeck joined the United States Forest Service (USFS) as a fisheries biologist on the Hiawatha National Forest. He held additional Forest Service assignments throughout the Midwest and California, focused on both aquatic research and fisheries management, after which he was promoted to National Fisheries Program Manager for the USFS where he lead the integration aquatic resources considerations into National Forest Management and the Rise to the Future Program. He spent a year in 1989 as a LEGIS Fellow working in the U.S. Senate on agriculture and appropriations issues.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
At the beginning of the George H. W. Bush administration, Dombeck was assigned as Special Assistant to the Director of the Bureau of Land Management and later was named Science Advisor. At the beginning of the Clinton Administration, he was assigned Acting Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Lands and Minerals Management. In 1994 he was appointed Acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management by Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt. Dombeck held that position until 1997 when Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman named him the 14th Chief of the U.S. Forest Service.
Dombeck's time at the BLM was marked by a variety of successes that focused the agency's management on wildlife protection, riparian and aquatic resources and InFish. Dombeck worked closely with then Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas to increase the two agencies' cooperation and sustainability and ecosystem based management and watershed restoration.
United States Forest Service
As US Forest Service Chief, Michael Dombeck's overarching principle for the nation's public lands was, and still is, that of Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt: To provide "the greatest good for the greatest number."
His work at the USFS reflected this ideal. In 1997 with the Forest Service Leadership team a four-point agenda was crafted. It became known as The Natural Resources Agenda which emphasized four major topics; watershed health and restoration, ecologically sustainable forest and grasslands management, recreation and a long-term forest roads policy which was outlined in a speech titled “A Gradual Unfolding of a National Purpose." Dombeck also added emphasis to the importance of clean water as a forest a product. Dr. Jim Sedell was appointed to lead a task force of scientists and economists to the quantity and value of water flowing from the National Forests.
The major achievement under Dombeck’s leadership was the development of the Roadless Rule which protected 58 million acres of the most remote national forest lands. Dombeck laid his proposal for roadless area management in a speech to the 73rd Annual Outdoor Writers’ Association in Greensboro, North Carolina on June 27, 2000. In that speech he proposed 1) vastly prohibiting road building on 58 million acres of roadless area - citing a lack of funds for their maintenance – and, 2) deferring other major decisions regarding roadless areas to local planners and managers, allowing them to determine how best to protect local lands while protecting their social and ecological value. This proposal, Dombeck believed, would lay the groundwork for enhancing and increasing Americans’ experiences in the nation’s forests as well as improve the quality of watersheds and ecosystems.
Support for his proposal was Forest Service Roadless Area Conservation: Final Environmental Impact Statement Socioeconomic Specialist Report in January 2001, where Dombeck’s work Values, Beliefs, and Management of Public Forests in the Western World at the Close of the Twentieth Century, as well as his speech to the Writers’ Association was cited as supporting documentation.
Dombeck retired from federal service in 2001 due to the lack of support of roadless area protection by the George W. Bush administration. He was granted the highest award in career federal service, the Presidential Rank-Distinguished Executive Award, in 2001.
Post Federal Service
After retiring from federal service, Dombeck took a position as Professor of Global Conservation at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and was later named UW System Fellow, where he served from 2001 to 2010. He currently serves as Executive Director of the David Smith Post Doctoral Fellowship in conservation biology (since 2005), as a trustee of the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread (since 2002), Trout Unlimited (since 2010), and the Wisconsin chapter of The Nature Conservancy (since 2009).
Dombeck has authored, co-authored, and edited over 200 popular and scholarly publications, including the books Watershed Restoration: Principles and Practices and From Conquest to Conservation: Our Public Lands Legacy.
Dombeck has received the following awards:
- Ansel Adams Award, 2010 
- Aldo Leopold Restoration Award, 2009
- Fellow, Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, 2008 
- Honorary Doctorate, Haverford University, 2007
- Wisconsin Idea Professor, University of Wisconsin System, 2004
- Sustained Achievement Award, Renewable Natural Resources Foundation, 2003
- Distinguished Service Award, Society for Conservation Biology, 2003 
- Audubon Medal, National Audubon Society, 2002
- Lady Bird Johnson Conservation Award, 2002
- Edgar Wayburn Award, Sierra Club, 2002
- Presidential Rank – Distinguished Executive Award, 2001
- Chief Emeritus, United States Forest Service, 2001
- Honorary Doctor of Public Service, Northland College, Ashland, WI, 2001
- Chair's Award, Natural Resources Council of America, 2001
- Conservation Hero of the Year, The Wilderness Society, 2001
- Conservationist of the Year, National Wildlife Federation, 2001
- Man of the Year, American Sportfishing Association, 1999
- Outdoor Life Magazine Annual Conservation Award, 1999
- Secretary’s Award for Outstanding Federal Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1999
- Wetlands Conservationist Award, Ducks Unlimited, 1998
- Distinguished Alumnus, University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point, 1997
- President's Fishery Conservation Award, American Fisheries Society, 1996
- Steen, Harold K. "The Chiefs Remember". Forest History Society, 2004, p.123.
- Steen, Harold K. "The Chiefs Remember". Forest History Society, 2004, p.123
- Steen, Harold K. "The Chiefs Remember". Forest History Society, 2004, p.124
- Dombeck, Michael (January 3, 2003). "The Forgotten Forest Product: Water". The New York Times.
- Dombeck, Michael (February 1, 2003). From Conquest to Conservation: Our Public Lands Legacy (2nd ed.). Island Press. p. 100. ISBN 978-1559639569.
- Steen, Harold K. "The Chiefs Remember". Forest History Society, 2004, p.144.
- "Science Advisory Board". http://www.conbio.org/SmithFellows/about/advisory.cfm.
- "On Board". http://johnsonfdn.thesupergroup.com/bio/michael-dombeck. 2001.
- Michael P. Dombeck - Publications
- "Dombeck receives Ansel Adams Award for protecting National Forests." http://wilderness.org/content/dombeck-receives-ansel-adams-award-leadership-protecting-national-forests. 2010
- "Michael Dombeck". http://www.wisconsinacademy.org/contributor/michael-dombeck. 2011
- "Plenary Speakers".http://www.conbio.org/activities/meetings/2003/website/plenaryspeakers.htm. 2002.