LUFKIN, Texas — Twelve million forested acres spanning three regions, 18 districts, a dozen programs, 42 financial accounts and 130 employees — plus nine vacancies to be filled.
And one man in charge of it all: Wes Moorehead.
The 34-year-old forester recently was named as the new East Texas Operations Department Head for Texas Forest Service. The job places Moorehead at the top of the chain of command in East Texas and tasks him with overseeing all of the agency’s forestry and firefighting efforts in the region.
“I really love East Texas. I was born and bred in the programs there,” Moorehead said, referring to his 11-year forestry career. “I’m really excited to put my mark on it, to take some of the things I’ve seen throughout my career and make them better.”
Moorehead started with the agency in 2001 as a Forest Inventory & Analysis forester in Kirbyville before moving into a district forester role, first in Jasper, and later in Marshall. He most recently served as a regional forester in Nacogdoches.
He assumed his new role on May 1, replacing Bill Oates, who now serves as Associate Director for Forest Resource Development.
As one of three regional foresters, Moorehead was in charge of about 40 people in a six-district area — or about one-third of East Texas. The new leadership role is a much broader position, he said.
“I knew what the job entailed because I worked closely with Bill Oates,” Moorehead said. “But it was exciting to grab the keys and get behind the wheel and steer this part of the agency.”
Since taking over, Moorehead has focused his energy on learning about, coordinating and leading the three regions in East Texas, as well as the Forest Health and Facilities programs. Often working 12- to 14-hour days, the new department head has had little to time slow down.
In just the last few weeks, Moorehead and his employees have been tasked with overseeing the Emergency Forest Restoration Program — a federal program that helps landowners recover after natural disasters — in East Texas and supporting its launch in Bastrop.
The region also has been charged with completing the Emerald Ash Borer trap program, a survey for potential infestation of the pest, and supporting the statewide drought assessment to help officials refine the mortality rate from the 2011 drought.
“I’m really proud of the way the districts have taken on all these tasks. Every project we’ve gotten in the last six weeks, they’ve taken it, made all the deadlines and knocked it out,” Moorehead said. “They’ve stepped up to the plate. I’m really proud of the way everyone works together to get these projects done.”
Moorehead hopes to use the drought assessment as a jumping off point for boosting collaboration between the agency’s forest management and fire and emergency response divisions.
Firefighters are pairing up with foresters to form two-person teams that will survey plots and access damage across the state. A couple of firefighters with forestry backgrounds are leading their own teams.
Moorehead also plans to request help from West Texas firefighting crews when conducting prescribed burns in East Texas. The move, he said, allows his crews to get needed help while providing others with fire experience in vegetation — dense pine plantation — that’s not typically found out west.
“It’s cross pollination,” Moorehead said. “I’m a big proponent of that.”
Bill Oates, associate director for Forest Resource Development, described Moorehead as an excellent project coordinator who places a high priority on partnerships and has a knack for motivating employees.
“Wes is a natural leader,” Oates said. “He got into forestry to make a difference and that’s evident in the work he does.”