John Allen wanted a job where he could work outside — and he wanted to make change. For the past four decades, he’s had both of those desires fulfilled beyond his expectations. This month, the long-time Deschutes National Forest Service Supervisor is retiring.

Allen has been a significant presence in Sisters, as the area has grappled with growth and changes in forest use — and a series of massive wildfires that have had a major impact on local communities.

“Sisters had been at the tip of the spear for the past 15 years when it comes to wildfires,” Allen told The Nugget earlier this month.

Under his leadership, the Forest Service has undertaken a major effort to reintroduce healthy fire into the landscape through prescribed burning and to protect outlying communities from the threat of wildfire. The projects in Sisters Country have had an impact. Allen noted that the work helped keep the 2017 Milli Fire out of forest subdivisions like Crossroads and the Edgington Road area.

“I’m not saying that our prescribed burning saved those subdivisions, but they sure gave us the chance to knock that fire down and keep it from burning into those subdivisions,” Allen said.

He noted that the community of Sisters has, over the years, become more and more supportive of Forest Service efforts. That’s a reflection of the values that Allen brought to his work. For him, collaboration and the building of trust among staff and affected communities was always paramount. Building trust was key.

“I think Bill Anthony, the (former) Ranger in Sisters, did a great job of that,” Allen said.

He boiled down his own style of leadership to a simple premise — and an African proverb.

“I think I’ve tried to be an individual with a vision of what is possible,” he said.

How you achieve what is possible is where the African proverb comes in: “If you want to go fast, go alone,” Allen said. “If you want to go far, go together.”

Allen notes that there are many people to “go together” with across Central Oregon.

Allen contributed to the development of the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project and Deschutes Trails Coalition where members of diverse interests work together to provide input to the management of the Deschutes National Forest. Allen is known for his focus not only on the management of national forest lands but also for his belief in the power of relationships, partnerships and collaboration.

Many of those relationships are found here in Sisters.

The Deschutes National Forest is under tremendous pressure as more and more people flood in to enjoy its beauty and recreational opportunities. Balancing ecological health and the public’s wants and needs has occupied much of Allen’s thinking and planning for the past several years.

“My goal is to keep the quality of the experience as high as possible,” he told The Nugget.

That is the purpose behind a controversial permitting system that will soon go into place, restricting access to sensitive —and highly trafficked, wilderness areas.

Allen cited the Peterson Ridge Trail system in Sisters as an example of how multiple goals can be met, utilizing a compact profile that controls the impact of heavy use.

“That trail system didn’t exist 10 years ago,” he said. “Peterson Ridge is a good example of how you build new trails to accommodate increased use and try to mitigate impact on wildlife,” Allen said.

While he grew up in the San Diego, California, area, Allen’s mother’s family was from Oregon, and he spent considerable time here in his youth, working on a farm near Madras.

“I quickly figured out doing farm labor — I’d look up at Mount Jefferson and think I’d rather be up there,” he recalled with a smile.

Allen spent all his time outdoors, no matter where he was, and that’s where he wanted to work.

“I knew from early high school that I wanted a job where I was paid to be outdoors,” he said.

He got his degree in forestry from UC Berkeley in 1979 and worked on crews in the woods for 15 years. While working on the Umpqua National Forest, a mentor advised him to move into management.

“I was 36 at the time, and starting to see that there was a bigger world out there and I was interested in that world,” he recalled.

Allen has served as a Deputy Forest Supervisor on the Gallatin National Forest in Montana and a District Ranger for the McKenzie Ranger District on the Willamette National Forest.

Allen’s entry into the Forest Service and into leadership positions coincided with a transition from a get-the-cut-out mentality of the “old” Forest Service to a more ecologically based approach that fit well with Allen’s education, training and temperament.

“I was real excited about that,” he said.

He feels that the Deschutes National Forest is a good example of how competing and sometimes conflicting needs can be balanced.

“We are one of the most intensively managed forests in the West,” he said.

Yet ecological values are still at the forefront.

“It’s finding that sweet spot of those social, ecological and economic goals,” he said.

Getting community buy-in is critical to finding that sweet spot, and Allen has proved adept at cultivating it.

“I think it takes time” he said. “You have to build up community support. And the best way to do that is to get them involved.”

Allen is confident that community involvement and engagement will continue under his successor.

As for himself, he and his wife will stay in Central Oregon, though travel to Ireland, Scotland and the Alps are in the cards. He plans on taking advantage of the recreational opportunities he’s sought to accommodate.

“I tell everybody unabashedly that I’m going to ski midweek from now on and I’m going fishing when I want to, not when I can fit it in,” he said.

Allen expressed appreciation for a high-quality staff across the forest — and they in turn salute him as he heads out to the river.

Deschutes National Forest Public Affairs Officer Jean Nelson-Dean spoke for many of her colleagues in assessing Allen’s tenure:

“I’ve never worked with anyone who showed as much leadership as John Allen.”