Forestry pioneer retires from Northern Arizona University

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A Northern Arizona University forestry expert who was ahead of his time in urging communities across the West to thin dense stands of trees and set fire to the landscape as a way to ward off catastrophic wildfires has retired from his position at the school.

Members of Congress, state legislators, the U.S. Forest Service and countless others looked to Wally Covington for science-based advice on how to restore forests to a condition when natural fires regularly would burn the undergrowth and small trees.

Covington retired in late January as executive director of NAU’s Ecological Restoration Institute, which he founded, after about 45 years at the school. He started there as an assistant professor of forestry.

Covington, 73, told the Arizona Daily Sun that he plans to spend time in Flagstaff and in Oklahoma still working on forest restoration. He also hopes to work in South America and with Native American fire crews, he said.

Covington was on track to practice medicine after getting a bachelor’s degree but ditched the plan after a doctor told him people also need help enjoying life and to find his passion, he said. He graduated from Yale University with a doctorate from the forestry program.