The forestry world has lost another giant. John Marker, a much admired U.S. Forest Service retiree, recently passed away at his home in Hood River, Oregon following a brief illness. John had been an Evergreen Foundation Director for several years and was one of the founders of the widely regarded National Association of Forest Service Retirees.
I knew John for more than 20 years. He was the U.S. Forest Service’s legislative and public relations liaison for Region 6 during Evergreen’s early years. I don’t recall the circumstances of our meeting, but I know the job put John on the front lines in the epic spotted owl war – easily the toughest assignment in the entire Forest Service at the time. He handled his largely thankless job with remarkable grace and professionalism. I’ve never known a better listener or a more creative thinker.
John fought his first forest fire when he was still in high school in Marienville, Pennsylvania. His father, Pinky, worked in the Southern Ranger District of the Allegheny National Forest. John simply followed in Pinky’s footsteps after he graduated from high school in 1955. He graduated from Penn State’s fabled School of Forestry in 1959, married his sweetheart, Mary, and headed west.
John’s early Forest Service years were spent in fire management in northern California. Phil Aune, another Forest Service retiree and friend of Evergreen, recalls meeting John on a Shasta-Trinity forestry tour in 1962. Aune was then a forestry student at Humboldt State in Eureka, California.
“He met us in Mount Shasta and almost immediately singled me out because I was wearing a cowboy hat,” Aune chuckled. “My hat became a prop in his discussion of how the Forest Service was changing from a largely custodial ‘riding the range’ approach to a more aggressive management style. He really believed in it, and in later years, lamented the agency’s return to custodial management.”
Ted Stubblefield, also a Forest Service retiree, had known John since their days together on the Sequoia National Forest in the late 1960s. Although their career tracks would separate them, they got back together again in retirement.
“I valued his thoughts whether few or plenty,” Stubblefield said of the time they spent together trying to work out what Stubblefield called “a new way” for forestry and ecosystem management to co-exist on federal lands. Their goal – and that of those who worked with them – was to create a legislative package Congress could consider as it looks for ways to end gridlock in the political debate over the future of federal forest management. That package is now winding its way through the political maze.
It was John’s rock solid belief in active forest management that spurred his interest in Evergreen, and no doubt had everything to do with his decision to accept my invitation to join our Board of Directors. With his help, we were able to solidify what remains a very rewarding relationship with the members of the National Association of Forest Service Retirees. As professionals in their respective fields, no group has contributed more to the advancement of federal forestry or the protection of national forests than NAFSR’s members. They are the embodiment of John’s stellar Forest Service career.
John’s career took him from northern California to Medford, Oregon where he served as the Forest Service’s first public affairs officer on the timber rich Umpqua, Siskiyou and Rogue River national forests. He was later transferred to the regional office in Ogden, Utah where he worked in public affairs and fire operations. He was next transferred to the Chief’s office in Washington, D.C. where he again worked in fire management, developing the Forest Service’s first wildland-urban interface program. He was there for three years, then transferred to the Region 6 office in Portland, where he served as Public Affairs Director until his retirement in 1992.
After John retired, he and Mary bought a pear and cherry orchard near Hood River. Julia and I visited them there a couple of times. Their orchards are beautiful and productive, but I’ll hazard a guess that their great value came in providing John with a place where he could walk and think.
I suspect most of his thinking centered on how to bring the Forest Service back to center, and how to draw more people into the public discourse about how the nation’s federal forests should be managed. We shared a belief in the idea bringing more people of diverse backgrounds into the discussion was absolutely essential to the future of federal forest management.
Count us among those who will miss John’s wisdom and humor. Although he was a serious man, he laughed easily and he cared deeply about the Forest Service’s historic mission – a mission that put the agency at the forefront in the nation’s post-World War II homebuilding boom, an event unrivaled in its importance in American history.
John will be missed, not just at Evergreen, but among dozens of Forest Service colleagues whose lives and careers he touched. He was a warm and generous man, blessed with a wisdom and capacity for judgment that is extremely rare in circles where forestry’s future is being discussed and debated.
Jim Petersen, founder and president, the Evergreen Foundation