Forest Forum honors three

By From page A4 | May 24, 2013

The Amador El Dorado Forest Forum recognized three of its members posthumously at the Spring Honors Dinner held at the Institute of Forest Genetics in Placerville on April 17.

Robert E. “Bob” Flynn, 1919-2011, U.S. Forest Service 1936-1975

Bob Flynn, born in Georgetown, went to work for the Forest Service before he got out of high school. He became district ranger of four districts and fire control officer on the Shasta-Trinity and the Sierra.

As a teenager, Bob’s first job was on a trails crew at Hells Delight Meadows, north of Highway 88. Pay was $4 a day. His next job was at Bald Mountain Lookout, near Quintette, east of Georgetown. Transportation was by burro.

In 1937, Bob shared an apartment in Davis with his older brother, Joe, and their buddy, Ray Lawyer, when all three men enrolled in the university to study forestry. The trio would each eventually get their degrees from Oregon State University.

While working for the Forest Service in 1941, Bob received orders to report for military duty. The Forest Service made all its employees available to serve, but requested that Bob stay until the end of fire season. He joined the Army Air Corps and trained at Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, Tex. as a bombardier. He proceeded through navigation school and was posted to the Galapagos Islands. For the remainder of World War II, he operated the radar on B24s, flying security patrol on the western approaches to the Panama Canal.

Back stateside, Bob enrolled in Oregon State University on the GI Bill. During summers, he worked as fire foreman at South Lake Tahoe.

His first assignment after graduation was desert fire control assistant in the Cuyama District on the Los Padres Forest. His first appointment to District Ranger was on the Los Padres. He was District Ranger on the Mariposa and Shasta Trinity Forests, and retired in 1975 as Sierra National Forest District Ranger.

Bob was uniformly described as a cheerful man. He was good-natured and never complained, even though conditions were sometimes harsh, with minimum shelter, isolation and no fresh food. He was known as a good boss, one that people liked to work with.

Bob did not marry until he was over 50 years old and near the end of his forestry career. When he did marry, he chose a woman who had worked for him one summer.

Bob and his wife, Sue, retired to Georgetown, where he served for 24 years as a director of the Georgetown Divide Public Utility District. Since most of the water district facilities–canals, tunnels, Edson Dam and Stumpy Meadows Reservoir, and the Lake Walton treatment plant–were within the Eldorado National Forest boundaries and familiar to him, he was able to make important contributions to the operations of the district.

Ralph E. Balderston, 1929-2012, logging contractor 31 years

Born in Pocatello, Idaho, Ralph’s parents, George and Grace, moved to Georgetown, where his grandfather, John Balderston, ran a store called Balderston Station next to his home seven miles east of Georgetown. Ralph, the eldest of 15 children, grew up in the woods.

At age 14, Ralph was splitting firewood to feed the steam donkey for $2.50 a cord. A steam donkey, or donkey engine, is the nickname for a steam-powered winch that was designed to lift, drag and move logs from its stump to a landing, and to load logs.

By the time he was 16, Ralph was falling timber. He developed into a jack-of-all-trades in the woods.

Before he went into the service during the Korean War, Ralph worked as a tail sawyer at Michigan-Cal Lumber Company for a year. A tail sawyer removes cut boards from the mill. After the war, Ralph worked as an operating engineer and teamster, running big equipment. He also ran a service station at Twin Bridges.

For 31 years, Ralph worked as an independent logging contractor. He operated as Ralph Balderston Co., Somerset, and Ralph Balderston Logging, Inc., also in Somerset.

When his son, Mark, born in 1962, was growing up, the family spent summers living in a comfortable trailer in the woods. Scheritta, his wife, and Mark would join Ralph as soon as school was out.

He had a reputation as a specialist at working in sensitive areas along streams. Ralph ran his jobs from his loader. His team was a faller, a bucker, a cat skinner (bulldozer operator) and a skidder operator. When the crew left for the day, Ralph and his family enjoyed the quiet of the forest.

Healthy and active as the years advanced, he continued his logging business. At 74, he had a contract with Michigan-Cal to manage the Table Rock Timber sale. He carried on his routine schedule, logging during the day and fixing trucks at night.

Ralph was described as hard working and honest, a man who looked out for others and was quick to share his coffee or sandwich out in the brush.

Robert “Bob” Harris, 1940-2013, U.S. Forest Service 1967-1997

In his 30 years with the U.S. Forest Service, Bob Harris served on only four forests, all in Region 5, the Western Region, and was never a district ranger. Nevertheless, his legacy is profound.

Early on, Bob challenged the prevailing military-style attitude in the Forest Service that casualties while fighting forest fires were to be expected. He facilitated a dialogue about the loss of firefighters that helped change that perception.

Bob grew up in Oakland, where his father was assistant fire chief. The camaraderie among firefighters impressed him at an early age.

He studied civil engineering at UC Berkeley, graduating in 1963. America was building and it was a boom time for engineers. Bob went to work for the county and the state, but shortly moved his family to Illinois, where he worked for the highway department for four years.

He was tiring of engineering roads when a boyhood friend alerted him to opportunities with the U.S. Forest Service. As a Boy Scout, he had spent time in the mountains and learned to love the environment. When he applied for a job, he was given the choice of the Sequoia, the Eldorado or the Stanislaus. Bob started as a forest engineer on the Eldorado in March 1967, and found the number of different projects almost overwhelming.

His first big challenge was working on a restoration project that followed the failure of Hell Hole Dam in 1964 just before construction was completed. A 100-year storm caused catastrophic flooding in northern California and the Pacific Northwest. When Hell Hole, on the Rubicon River, failed, a wall of water took out several bridges downstream and caused serious destruction. Bob was involved in replacing bridges, roads and trails. He worked cooperatively with Michigan-Cal Lumber Company to agree on road standards and design. It was his first experience in changing from a technical approach to a negotiated one.

Bob adapted well to the change. Throughout the rest of his career, he was a member of many multidisciplinary teams within the Forest Service–recreation planners, landscape architects, hydrologists, silviculturists, archeologists and district employees. He went on to become an interagency leader with federal, state and county agencies. He took pride in his ability to work with what he called “externals.” Externals included the Job Corps, state fire personnel, honor inmates, the Civilian Conservation Corps, local communities, railroads, Native Americans, the U.S. Navy and the Offices of the President and Vice President.

He expanded his knowledge by learning from his superiors and taking advantage of trainings. In turn, he made a point to pass the knowledge along to new recruits. Bob worked on the Women in Engineering program, helping women assimilate to professional cultures.

Even though it was not required at the time, he became a California licensed civil engineer in 1968.

In 1970 he transferred to the Shasta-Trinity. When the solid waste program started, Bob had to negotiate with the county supervisors to close the dumps, which were on Forest Service land. Responding to a new water pollution abatement program, Bob and a team designed floating toilets and wastewater treatment systems.

Another task was co-leader of a design team for the Pacific Crest Trail.

He transferred to the Cleveland National Forest, east of San Diego, in 1974, where he remained for one and a-half years. His experience there encouraged him to take on more administrative responsibilities. Bob enjoyed the challenge of working with people who had adversarial points of view and trying to get to a resolution.

Bob spent the years 1975-1983 as forest engineer on the Tahoe National Forest. While there, he put together the first forest off-highway vehicle management plan. The National Environmental Policy Act was in effect, resulting in more public involvement. Bob’s favorite book at the time was “Getting to Yes.”

One of the postings considered an essential for top leadership in the Forest Service is Washington, D.C. Bob turned down an assignment in the capital because his three children were teenagers and he and his wife did not want to disrupt their high school years. Instead, he went to work at the Region 5 office in Pleasanton in 1984 and stayed for four years. He worked on the Mono Lake Visitors Center and a multi-agency administrative facility at Big Sur. He received the Forest Service Engineer of the Year award

The culmination of Bob’s career was when he became administrator of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. He worked there from 1988 to 1997, with the exception of nine months when he took leave to serve as Interim Forest Supervisor on the Eldorado. The Basin Unit was created in the 1970s to provide coordinated administration of the Tahoe, Toiyobe and Eldorado forests in the area adjacent to Lake Tahoe.

Bob was instrumental in restoring the Pope House, Valhalla and Camp Richardson, and helped with the Tahoe Rim Trail. One of his major achievements was the installation of the Taylor Creek Stream Profile Chamber, where visitors can view salmon in Taylor Creek from a walkway.

He and others attempted to make the Basin Unit a national forest, but were defeated. He also wanted to see waterborne historic tours around the lake; however, other duties took priority.

Bob became involved in wildland-urban interface issues. Following a series of drought years in the mid-1980s, stands of white fir became infested with the fir engraver beetle and died. Attempts at salvage operations became embroiled in political skirmishes. To educate decision makers on the issues at Lake Tahoe, Bob worked to invite regional administrators, and eventually President Clinton and Vice President Gore, for personal visits.

One result of the visits was a $50,000 donation from Gore to create the Tahoe-Baikal Institute. South Lake Tahoe is now a sister city to Baikalsk, a small town with a pulp mill on the lake.

Following retirement, Bob put his energies into the Tahoe-Baikal Institute. His first trip to Baikal was in 1998. He developed land and resource plans for Mongolia and Russia. He trained the Russians in trail building. He created a high school student exchange in watershed education.

Bob also encouraged Forest Service retirees to remain active, saying they are an important resource. He was involved in an oral history program that resulted in a book called, “The Unmarked Trail.”

Bob Harris’s life is a history of the U.S. Forest service in a period of great changes. The man who decided that road building was not exciting enough helped make the Forest Service what it is today.

Bob’s son, Andy, who attended the dinner, gave $100 from the Robert Harris Trust to support the activities of the Amador El Dorado Forest Forum. Andy said, The U.S. Forest Service was and still is a terrific ‘family.’ His father was a great problem solver. He believed in the mission of the Forest Service, and always brought reading home with him to study in the evenings while the family watched television.”

For more information, visit, or call Diane Dealey Neill at 530-417-1960.

Roberta Long

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