If Don Nebeker learned anything in his 141/2 years at the helm of the Uinta National Forest, it is to take controversy in stride.

In his tenure as forest supervisor, Nebeker was often at the center of swirling public tides - from the Forest Service's acquisition of the Strawberry Reservoir lands to efforts to protect the valley's foothills from the ravages of all-terrain vehicles to the on-again, off-again proposals for a ski resort on Maple Mountain."You learn not to take it personally," Nebeker said. "The more experience you have, you realize it's the normal process in America."

Still, the Forest Service's role in managing public lands is complicated by the fact that it is expected "by both sides of an issue to be an advocate."

"We're not that," Nebeker said.

Nebeker officially stepped down from his position as supervisor of the Uinta National Forest on Friday. As supervisor, Nebeker oversaw a staff of 100 and a $9.5 million budget.

It will be several months before his successor is announced. Norm Huntsman, range wildlife and watershed branch chief, will be acting supervisor during the interim.

Nebeker's colleagues say he ran a lean operation and provided ample opportunity for staff personnel to work autonomously.

Among the programs he allowed his staff to develop: the camp stamp program, the "pack-it-in, pack-it-out" policy and using contractors to manage campgrounds.

"He is the kind of guy that does not do things in a calf-path manner," Huntsman said. "He likes to be more innovative than you normally find in a forest supervisor."

Nebeker says the most difficult issue he dealt with as forest supervisor was the acquisition of 57,000 acres at Strawberry, a process that began in 1986 and concluded in 1989. The area formerly was managed by the Strawberry Water Users Association, which had been criticized for mismanaging and overgrazing the lands.

"It is appropriate that they be in public ownership," Nebeker said. "It is a . . . natural ecosystem with the potential to be a highly productive, beautiful area."

Despite all the attention the Seven Peaks ski resort proposal received, Nebeker says the decision to give the resort conditional approval was "relatively easy to make."

"The harder decisions are the things that are more immediate," Nebeker said. "Closing an area for fire protection, opening or closing a road - anything that has to do with denial of the public's rights or use of national forests are sometimes hard to make."

Nebeker leaves his mark on a variety of Forest Service programs: the aggressive plan to control all-terrain-vehicle use along the foothills; the Uinta Forest's expansive volunteer program, which is being copied in other forests throughout the United States; and the Utah Wildlife Initiative.

The Uinta National Forest Service received national recognition for its volunteer program, which involves as many as 12,000 people during a year.

"It gives old and young the opportunity to work together," Nebeker said. "Young people go away with a sense of worth, purpose and work ethic. It's a program that pays in an economic and human way."

Nebeker vows to rejoin the Forest Service as a volunteer following his retirement.

Nebeker was one of several forest supervisors who started the wildlife initiative in 1990 to improve such programs as small-game hunting and fishing, which in turn provides social and economic benefits to the state.

As might be expected, Nebeker joined the Forest Service because of he loves the outdoors.

"It's easy for Forest Service people to stay motivated," he said. "You're taking care of the nation's natural resource jewels, the foundation of its economy and spirit, its beauty."