Michael A. Sawyers
CUMBERLAND — Thirty-eight years and a few million trees later, Bob Webster is retiring from a career with the Maryland Forest Service, a branch, you might say, of the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
During the past 25 years, Webster has been the regional forester for Western Maryland, a post that returned him to his hometown of Cumberland and the mountains that beckoned.
After almost four years with the U.S. Air Force, the 1965 Allegany High School graduate started his forestry education — two years at Allegany College of Maryland and two more and a bachelor’s degree at SUNY-Syracuse.
Webster was hired by the MFS and, following a field job in Queen Anne’s County, transfered to a seven-year job in administration in Annapolis.
“I wasn’t crazy about going into an office job, but it was closer to Western Maryland,” Webster said Wednesday as he cleaned out his desk. “It was a move in the right direction,” he added, speaking geographically.
Webster recalls 2005 as a high point for the Forest Service.
“Forests had been under management of the state’s Park Service and that didn’t make any sense,” he said. “The Park Service is recreation-oriented and forests are managed for multiple uses. In 2005, the forests were returned to the Forest Service.”
Wildfire hasn’t been a major problem in recent years, according to Webster. In 2001, though, that wasn’t the case.
“In a very short time in April that year we had large fires at Barrelville, Westernport and on the Green Ridge State Forest, as well as one in Washington County.”
Webster said the Western Region of the DNR is held up as a glowing example of how teamwork across various disciplines works for the good of the natural resources.
“The cooperation with fish and wildlife and all the disciplines is the best,” he said. “There is a closeness within the disciplines and it helps fulfill our mission. The people are all dedicated. You never have to look over your shoulder.”
Webster remembers the late John Mash, former Green Ridge State Forest superintendent, as a positive influence. “What I liked about him was not only his knowledge and commitment, but the fact that he spoke directly about a subject. I admired his expertise, but I also admired that he was a straight shooter,” he said.
Webster said he believes the future of state forest management is bright, but made more difficult because of manpower.
“When I came here there were 60 forest rangers and now there are three,” he said. “We have lost half our people during 25 years.”
Webster is high on the forestry program at ACM and its director, Steve Resh. “They turn out good people. The standards there are unwavering,” he said.
Webster and his wife, Ruth, will soon move to Pittsburgh, where they have bought a house and where one of their sons and a grandchild live. Another son and grandchild in Seattle means that traveling is in the future as well.
Ditto for Pittsburgh Pirates games. “We have two tickets for an upcoming game with the Cardinals,” Webster said, adding that he is looking forward to the freedom of retirement.
Contact Michael A. Sawyers at email@example.com.