NOMINATIONS:

USDA undersecretary pick withdraws

President Obama's nominee to lead the Forest Service and farmland conservation programs has withdrawn his name from consideration.

Homer Lee Wilkes, the Mississippi state conservationist and a 28-year veteran of the U.S. Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), was nominated in May as Agriculture undersecretary for natural resources and environment. The post directs the Forest Service and conservation projects at NRCS.

But Wilkes withdrew his name for personal reasons, the White House confirmed today.

Career administration officials said USDA had been trying to promote Wilkes to its headquarters for years but that Wilkes had been hesitant to uproot his family and move to Washington. Lobbyists who follow USDA said the withdrawal came after a bump in the road came up in Wilkes' background investigation.

The selection of a career NRCS employee for the job was a shift from the previous two administrations. Jim Lyons, who had worked on forestry issues on Capitol Hill and for the Society of American Foresters, held the post during the Clinton administration. A former timber lobbyist, Mark Rey, held the job in the Bush administration.

Wilkes was unknown to many forestry, environmental and farmland conservation groups in Washington. Conservation advocates were pleased with his nomination, noting that he had worked in Mississippi to forge key partnerships with state agencies and conservation groups on wetlands conservation. They said placing a career conservation-service employee could elevate the visibility of USDA's often overlooked role in conservation programs. Forest groups generally praised his nomination, although some said it concerned them that Wilkes did not have a forestry background (Greenwire, May 6).

He has worked with NRCS in Mississippi, Massachusetts and Texas. As Mississippi's state conservationist, he has taken particular care for forest and wetlands restoration, according to wildlife groups familiar with the state. Wilkes has a master of business administration and a doctoral degree in urban conservation planning and higher education from Jackson State University in Mississippi.

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