In the field of public land management in the Untied States, Alaska is a category unto itself. This fall, Sawtooth National Forest Supervisor Ruth Monahan will head north to "The Last Frontier State" to stake her claim as director of recreation, lands and minerals at the federal agency's Alaska Region offices.
"It's not every day that an opportunity like this one comes along," Monahan said. "My Forest Service career would not be complete without an assignment to Alaska."
Monahan, who arrived at the Sawtooth National Forest in June 2002, is nurturing a 25-year career with the federal agency. The 47-year-old began her professional life in the early 1980s in Washington state and went on to hold a number of positions in natural resources management in Washington and Idaho.
Reiterating what many Forest Service employees already know, Monahan stressed the boons of Central Idaho, the 2.1 million-acre Sawtooth National Forest and the 756,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
"Everybody knows about the Sawtooth, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area being the largest national recreation area in the Forest Service system," she said. "It's a place (Forest Service personnel) desire to come, not only because of its location and the spectacular resources it has, but also because it has a reputation for great employees."
Moving on from a place as visually spectacular, wild and challenging as Central Idaho will be a challenge in and of itself, Monahan said.
"Once you have worked on the Sawtooth National Forest and in Idaho, there's really no other place you can go -- but Alaska -- that can even compare."
The challenges of working in a topographically, biologically and socially diverse area like the Sawtooth National Forest are part of its appeal. Monahan said she has been proud to be involved in the successful completion of a number of projects during her tenure here. But building and improving relationships with Central Idaho's stakeholders were among the most rewarding experiences.
"I think the Sawtooth is unique because of how diverse it is, from the high alpine to the sagebrush lands to the south. When I think about Central Idaho in my mind, it's definitely one of the most diverse, not only the landscape, but also those in the communities," she said. "That adds to its complexity. There is a huge diversity of users, who all care and are passionate about the place."
But Alaska awaits, along with the nation's most vast expanse of publicly owned land, and the nation's two largest national forests, the Tongass and the Chugach. Monahan is setting her sights on the great, wild country to the north, where the aurora borealis often shimmer over 22 million acres of Forest Service-managed land.
According to the Forest Service, the Alaska Region has one of the most complex and challenging recreation, lands and minerals programs in the federal agency.
Intermountain Region Forester Jack Troyer has faith that Monahan is up to the task.
"Ruth is an outstanding professional and has been very successful at every job she has been assigned to during her 20-year-plus tenure in this region," he said.
Ed Waldapfel, Sawtooth National Forest spokesman, lamented her pending departure.
"It's a great opportunity for her, but I'll tell you, we're really going to miss her here on the Sawtooth National Forest. She's been a great asset."
Monahan will remain as supervisor at the Sawtooth National Forest until late summer. The agency is beginning the process of selecting a replacement, but that process can take three months or more.
Highlights from Sawtooth National Forest Supervisor Ruth Monahan's tenure include:
• Implementation of noxious weed projects with counties and agencies.
• Conservation easement purchases and a land donation on the SNRA.
• Resolution of rangeland management issues.
• Completion of forest plan revisions.
• Initiation of co-location of local Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management offices.
• Transition to the new Forest Service recreation fee program.
• Construction major recreation facilities.
• Initiation of the forest's travel management planning project.
• Successful emergency rehabilitation of the 40,800-acre Valley Road wildfire.