Forest Service mining reclamation expert Joe Gibbens, at left here in August 2012, speaks with U.S. Forest Service Ranger Peter Forbes. Forbes retired from the Forest Service Jan. 3, but his separation paperwork remains in limbo because of the partial shutdown of the federal government. (Mark Mulligan / Herald file)

Forest Service mining reclamation expert Joe Gibbens, at left here in August 2012, speaks with U.S. Forest Service Ranger Peter Forbes. Forbes retired from the Forest Service Jan. 3, but his separation paperwork remains in limbo because of the partial shutdown of the federal government. (Mark Mulligan / Herald file)

Forest ranger’s retirement is blocked by border-wall standoff

While waiting for separation papers to be processed, “I’m trying to stay non-political as best I can.”

DARRINGTON — Peter Forbes never imagined this was how he’d close out his 40-year career with the U.S. Forest Service.

When he retired Jan. 3, the outgoing Darrington district ranger expected to ease smoothly into a new routine. Forbes could relax after a career that culminated as the top manager for a massive expanse of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

With the ongoing government shutdown, Forbes’ separation paperwork remains in limbo somewhere in the federal bureaucracy. Like others, he could lose out on retirement payments for January, depending on how the stalemate is resolved.

“I’m trying to stay non-political as best I can,” Forbes said. “I’m not the only one in this predicament. There are hundreds of thousands of other federal workers who are not getting paid. I can’t say ‘woe is me.’ There are a lot of other people in the same mess.”

The partial shutdown was in its third week Tuesday, as President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats remained deadlocked over paying for a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Trump has insisted on $5.7 billion to build the physical barrier, casting it as an issue of national security. Democratic lawmakers view Trump’s wall as an ineffective approach to security and humanitarian problems on the southern border.

To make his case, the president delivered a nationally televised address Tuesday evening and planned to visit the Texas border region on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the shutdown is affecting about 800,000 federal workers.

Forbes grew up on the East Coast. As a child, he lived in rural areas and enjoyed the outdoors. A high school biology teacher kindled his interest in science and helped set him on his professional path. Forbes studied at the University of Maine and headed to Washington State University to earn a forestry degree.

Darrington District Ranger Peter Forbes pauses during a lunch break at the Monte Cristo townsite on Aug. 28, 2012. He is retiring from the U.S. Forest Service after 40 years. (Mark Mulligan / Herald file)

Darrington District Ranger Peter Forbes pauses during a lunch break at the Monte Cristo townsite on Aug. 28, 2012. He is retiring from the U.S. Forest Service after 40 years. (Mark Mulligan / Herald file)

He worked his entire Forest Service career in the Evergreen state. He arrived in Darrington after earlier stints in the Okanogan-Wenatchee and Colville national forests. Over the years, he was mobilized to combat wildfires throughout the region, initially as a firefighter and later in administrative roles.

He arrived in 2006 to manage the Darrington Ranger District, one of four districts in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The area covers eastern Snohomish County and part of southeastern Skagit County. Among its major attractions are the Mountain Loop Highway, the Big Four Ice Caves and a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Forbes oversaw a team of field rangers, biologists and technical staff. They managed campgrounds and trail maintenance, road repairs and timber sales.

When Forbes arrived, the district was still rebuilding from floods in 2003.

“That fall, in 2006, I got to witness another flood event firsthand,” Forbes said.

Rebuilding damaged Suiattle River Road would stretch into 2014. The washouts cut off access to the Pacific Crest Trail and took out a bridge over the Suiattle River.

“It’s a huge draw for people out recreating in the forest,” Forbes said of the road. “It leads to the Pacific Crest Trail.”

Throughout that work, a constant concern was minimizing impacts to salmon habitat.

In September, Forbes was on hand when helicopter crews relocated mountain goats from Olympic National Park to the Cascade Range. He helped efforts to maintain access in and around the ghost town of Monte Cristo, where a multimillion-dollar cleanup in 2015 removed contaminants from the town’s mining past.

Forbes no longer makes daily trips to the office, though he did return Thursday for an informal potluck with his co-workers. He cleaned out his personal belongings.

“I spent the better part of Thursday tidying up,” he said.

The 66-year-old now pays regular visits to the gym from his Arlington home. He’s looking forward to time with his wife and skiing trips with his son, who’s serving in the Air Force.

In his professional life, Forbes strove to abide by the Forest Service motto: “Caring for the Land and Serving People.”

“My career was all about managing the land for the public,” he said, “both for the present and the future.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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