CHRIS CARLSON: Speaking up for the Quiet Man

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One of Idaho’s most effective “behind-the-scenes” operators has been making the rounds at the Capitol building this week, introducing his successor to legislators and key folks in state government. Well-known in that small group of movers and shakers because he is one of its key participants, he is soft spoken and rather taciturn.

When he speaks, though, others listen, for his take is always matter of fact, objective, informative and to the point. He radiates integrity and commands respect because he possesses that rare quality called gravitas. He also has a subtle sense of humor and his word is his bond.

His name is Bob Boeh and he is the vice president for government affairs for the Idaho Forest Group. When he turns 70 on May 13, he’ll hand in his hard hat and formally turn his post over to Tom Shulz, the former director of the Idaho Department of Lands. Shulz knows he has a tall order in trying to fill Boeh’s boots.

Mark Brinkmeyer, chairman of the Idaho Forest Group (formerly known as Riley Creek Timber Company), would be the first to tell one that hiring Bob Boeh away from Plum Creek was one of the smartest moves he ever made. As a key adviser to the chairman, Boeh was instrumental in working on the management team that has seen IFG expand from one mill — when Boeh first went to work there 20 years ago — to six mills today with the recent acquisition of the St. Regis mill.

IFG’s other mills are at Moyie Springs, Laclede, Chilco, Lewiston and Grangeville.

Boeh’s 20 years with IFG — following 26 years with Plum Creek — gives him almost half a century in a business that has faced more than its share of challenges during that time. Boeh jokingly tells folks that it’s time to retire when you realize you’re older than many of the trees one is running through their mills.

Born in Butte and a 1970 graduate with a forestry degree from the University of Montana, one of Boeh’s hallmarks is that he has always kept an open mind and has listened carefully to all the industry critics, including folks from the Idaho Conservation League and the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness Group, and not just to the traditional business support.

He also played a critical role in helping Plum Creek redo the way it was conducting business in the Rocky Mountain region. The day he saw Plum Creek described by a Republican congressman on the front page of the Wall Street Journal as “the Darth Vader” of timber companies, he knew things had to change.

Then-Plum Creek chairman Dave Leland also knew some changes had to be made in the way they did their job, as did the Rocky Mountain region vice president, Charlie Grenier, along with his deputy, Mike Covey (now the chairman of Potlatch).

With Boeh, they assembled their unit managers, foresters and biologists and listened to the harsh results of a comprehensive poll, as well as a tough talk regarding how private timber companies had to recognize that they might own the ground, but the public had a vested interest in keeping water clean that passed through the land, maintaining air quality and protecting the wildlife that lived on the land. They had to recognize that any business operates by public consent.

It also became crystal clear that, no matter how the industry tried to package it, most of the public hated clear-cuts. Even business in their home communities detested clear-cuts. With this information in hand, Boeh and Grenier led their foresters through an exercise that evolved into a binding commitment to adopt 10 principles of environmental forestry, and some significant changes in the way they got out the cut.

The decision was also made to seek “green certification,” which they obtained, and not to advertise until they had walked the talk. One critic was former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, who early in his first term sent Leland a picture of a stream bed piled high with slash. Grenier invited Andrus to come take a second look during his third term and Andrus was suitably impressed with the changes.

When asked what he considered his legacy to be, Boeh quickly cited opening meaningful dialogues with environmental groups, including forest collaborative groups, helping Brinkmeyer grow the business, and making clear-cutting a practice of last resort.

Retirement plans call for he and his wife, Sandi, to visit as many of the national parks as they can, a cruise up the Inland Passage, continuing to raise and train hunting dogs, more hunting and fishing, as well as more time with the granddaughter.

Those who appreciate professionalism, candor, integrity and ability will miss this quiet man, who epitomizes the phrase made famous by President Teddy Roosevelt: Walk softly, but carry a big stick.

• • •

Chris Carlson is a longtime Idaho political writer who resides in Medimont.

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