PORTLAND — Oregon’s state forester and the leader of the long-struggling Department of Forestry, Peter Daugherty, has resigned effective May 31.
Daugherty submitted his resignation to the state Board of Forestry, which oversees the department, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported Friday.
Daugherty has led the agency since 2016, and his tenure has been marked by department financial problems, a dysfunctional relationship with the Board of Forestry and the loss of state lawmakers’ confidence. That’s all as the agency is looking for a large infusion of new resources to better respond to increasingly extreme wildfire seasons.
Daugherty’s resignation comes following a critical report from outside accounting consultant MGO, which described a fundamental lack of financial controls and oversight within the agency. The report was reviewed in a hearing this week before the Legislature’s Natural Resources subcommittee of Ways and Means, prompting some incredulity from lawmakers.
Sen. Kathleen Taylor, D-Portland, said she believes the Legislature should be overseeing the Department of Forestry.
“The board has been given this awesome responsibility by the public … and I’m concerned the board did not do its duties of overseeing the department,” she said.
Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, said many of the shortcomings revealed in the report had been noted in a 2015 department audit by the Secretary of State.
“We are six years later dealing with the same damn issue and I don’t see any improvement,” he said.
In Daugherty’s resignation letter, he said he had discussed the decision with the governor’s office and decided it would be in the best interest of the newly reconstituted board and the department to select a new state forester.
In an email to staff, Daugherty said leading the department had been the highlight of his long career in forestry. He said the agency’s “executive team is committed to supporting the transition.”
The Board of Forestry has the authority to hire and fire the state forester, which left the governor’s office and lawmakers with less control as financial problems grew. The board put Daugherty on a performance improvement plan while lawmakers demanded that Daugherty begin submitting monthly financial reports.
Gov. Kate Brown also expressed frustration last fall with her inability to remake the board and bring stronger financial expertise to its ranks, as lawmakers from timber-dependent counties joined Republicans to deny her board nominees. That changed this spring, as the Senate confirmed three of her nominees to the board, effectively remaking it.
“The board will soon meet to discuss leadership during this time of transition,” said Liz Merah, a spokesperson for Brown. “The governor is interested in a national search for someone who can further drive the agency as a national leader in fighting wildfires, while at the same time adapting to new technology and changing conditions on the ground.”
Reached at his home in Eastern Oregon, the forestry board’s new chair, Jim Kelly, said Daugherty’s decision to resign was reached mutually and that the board would look to hire an interim replacement with strong financial expertise, as the agency needs to get its financial house in order before it can do anything else effectively.