Matt McCombs is new state forester, ready to focus on outcomes


Collegian | Skylar Pradhan

The Colorado State Forest Service’s new state forester, Matthew McCombs, sits at the State Office in Fort Collins Jan. 27. His biggest goal as state forester is to “meet the moment — to ensure the significant investments that come with the significant expectations and to rise to the challenge and move Colorado forward as it relates to wildfire risk and forest health,” McCombs said.

Isabel Brown, News Reporter

Editor’s Note: Read the Spanish version of this article here.

Matthew McCombs took his seat as state forester of the Colorado State Forest Service Jan. 3.


“The Colorado State Forest Service is a service and outreach agency of the Warner College of Natural Resources” that provides services to the forests around Colorado, according to its website.

“It’s an incredible privilege to effect positive change that allows people to connect deeper to our natural heritage,” McCombs said.

McCombs has long had an appreciation for the natural earth and Colorado’s landscape. His first time practicing forestry was when he was 9 years old. His dad bought several gallon-bucket trees from a local nursery, which McCombs helped plant. He then was tasked with watering those trees every day until they were fully established.

“I still get a warm smile when I drive by and see those trees we planted 40 years ago,” McCombs said. “We can all be foresters.”

McCombs has a long history of working with forest services, previously serving as the U.S. Forest Service district ranger. When the state forester position became open, McCombs knew he wanted to apply because he had a good sense of the quality of people he would lead, and Gov. Jared Polis had just granted $6.4 million to forest health and management.

“It was the people of the Colorado State Forest Service combined with the incredible opportunity presented to us, and I wanted to be in the arena,” McCombs said.

John P. Hayes, dean of the Warner College of Natural Resources, made the decision to hire McCombs. He highlighted that the state forester position is a very complex position that requires passion, communication, administrative background and the ability to work with a broad variety of individuals.

Hayes explained that McCombs’ experience with public outreach and his ability to build great relationships with different stakeholders are qualities they were looking for.

“Colorado is fortunate to have a leader like (McCombs) to lead the state’s efforts to steward our amazing forest resources,” Hayes said.

Matthew McCombs, the Colorado State Forest Service’s new state forester, stands in front of the State Office sign in Fort Collins Jan. 27. Due to COVID-19, his house has become his main office. So far, his favorite part of the job is getting to know the people of the Colorado State Forest Service and the work they complete on behalf of the people of Colorado. (Collegian | Skyler Pradhan)

McCombs’ congressional history and his history working for the U.S. Forest Service give him a unique set of skills to focus into this more policy-based position. He felt these skills would be a great asset to the Colorado State Forest Service and help him make positive change.


“My focus is outcomes, outcomes, outcomes — moving the needle and doing what we said we were going to do,” McCombs explained.

Before joining the Colorado State Forest Service, McCombs worked with Sam Pankratz, who is currently a forestry program specialist with the Colorado State Forest Service. They worked together in a highly collaborative project in Taylor Canyon with the goal to mitigate the mountain pine beetle outbreak.

Pankratz described working with McCombs as an empowering experience wherein he allowed everyone to feel heard, whether they were citizens, employees or stakeholders.

“I believe leaders like (McCombs) are critical to moving us forward on a path towards success,” Pankratz said.

In the face of changing climate, increasing fires and beetle outbreaks, McCombs hopes to be able to use the resources the Colorado State Forest Service has to improve the health of the watershed and make the landscape more resilient to those effects. He wants to create outcomes that the people of Colorado will appreciate.

“It all starts there: in clean soil, clean air and clean water,” McCombs said.

McCombs said he is still learning and listening. He looks forward to hearing from people of varying perspectives during his work and adapting to the new information he receives. His goal is to bring in as many voices as he can, including voices from students at Colorado State University.

McCombs’ enthusiasm for his new role is reflected in his excitement to turn rhetoric into action.

“It’s a new day; it’s a new opportunity, a new leadership — now let’s go knock it out of the park,” McCombs said.

Reach Isabel Brown at or on Twitter @isabelbrown02.