Following a successful national search, Matthew McCombs will take leadership of the Colorado State Forest Service and become Colorado’s new state forester on Jan. 3, 2022.
“The people of Colorado and the millions of Americans who depend on Colorado’s forests deserve leadership and action equivalent to both the splendor of our natural heritage but also as importantly the historic challenges facing our forests,” said McCombs. “I am deeply humbled and honored to carry forward the proud legacy of the Colorado State Forest Service as Colorado’s next state forester.”
McCombs takes the lead of the agency following his time as the U.S. Forest Service district ranger for the 1.3-million-acre Gunnison Ranger District, part of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests. Prior to that role, McCombs served as the district ranger for the Appalachian Ranger District — home to Mount Mitchell, which is the tallest peak in the East, located in the Pisgah National Forest near Asheville, North Carolina.
His career has spanned both natural resources and forestry management as well as other governmental work, beginning as an aide to U.S. Sens. Ken Salazar and Jon Tester. McCombs is also a veteran, having deployed to Iraq in 2003 as a combat medic with the Colorado Army National Guard and serving as a medical service officer in the Montana Air National Guard where he achieved the rank of captain before leaving the service in 2012.
“Matt has had a unique professional career with a blend of leadership, forest management and legislative affairs experience that come together to create the ideal skillset and background for a state forester,” said Dean John Hayes of Colorado State University’s Warner College of Natural Resources, the administrative home of the CSFS, which also provides staffing for the Division of Forestry within the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
The Colorado State Forest Service is a critically important agency charged with providing technical forestry assistance, wildfire mitigation expertise and outreach and education in support of maintaining the health of Colorado’s 24-million acres of forests. The agency’s work impacts every Coloradan’s life in significant tangible and intangible ways, and the agency’s efforts have never been more salient in addressing the state’s environmental and natural resource challenges.
“Matthew has had a distinguished career in natural resource and forest management and will be a significant asset to the Colorado State Forest Service as its next state forester,” said Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “Matt arrives at an important time for Colorado forests, and I look forward to our collaboration as our state tackles our forest health and wildfire mitigation challenges.”
McCombs comes to the CSFS following the departure of former State Forester Mike Lester this past summer. Susan Matthews, Colorado’s deputy state forester, has served in the interim role since Lester’s departure and characterized the agency’s position as strong in terms of meeting the challenges that lie ahead and said the agency was thrilled to have him take on its leadership.
“Matt brings a wealth of knowledge about the health and management of Colorado’s forests from his time at the U.S. Forest Service – an important partner for us at the CSFS,” Matthews said. “With the convergence of both enormous challenges and equally tremendous opportunities for our state’s forests, he has the experience to guide the CSFS as we meet this critical moment for the forests and residents of Colorado.”
In reflecting on his move into this new role, McCombs described a hunger for bold action in Colorado to respond to the threats facing forests in the state.
“Congress and the Colorado legislature have made critical investments to meet these challenges, and it will be the CSFS that leads in every corner of the state to ensure these resources restore forest health, protect our water supply, reduce the risk and impacts from wildfire, and improve the health and productivity of both our urban and backcountry forests,” McCombs said, continuing that in his mind, his intent can be summed up as “meeting the moment.”
“My intention is to deploy the expertise, ingenuity, and passion of CSFS employees, our colleagues at CSU as well as our vast network of partners to meet the challenges ahead and deepen our connections to the people we serve,” he said, adding, “I can’t wait to get started.”