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Hamilton native takes helm at Bitterroot Forest West Fork District

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Hamilton native takes helm at Bitterroot Forest West Fork District

Hamilton native Dan Pliley was recently named the Bitterroot National Forest's West Fork District Ranger. 

One month after he graduated from Hamilton High School more than a quarter-century ago, Dan Pliley raised his right hand and became a member of the U.S. Army.

At the time, he planned to serve three years and then return to his native state.

But his plans changed as opportunities arose. And for 24 years, Pliley served his country both as an enlisted soldier and then as an officer in the military police.

During those years, he worked with a hand-picked team to help rectify the situation at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, served as a platoon leader at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, was a company commander for a criminal investigative unit in Afghanistan, taught tactics at Valley Forge Military College and ended his military career as an executive officer at the Department of Defense’s only maximum-security detention site at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Through all those years and experiences, both Pliley and his wife, Trisha, hoped someday to return to their roots.

In late October, that hope became a reality when Pliley officially became the Bitterroot National Forest’s West Fork Ranger. He replaces Seth Carbonari, who recently accepted a new position with the Kootenai National Forest in Eureka.

While he’s not certain whether his family goes back four or five generations in the Bitterroot, Pliley said it’s been a great homecoming for the couple who still have a large family living in the valley.

“The Bitterroot Valley has always been a special place for us,” Pliley said. “I grew up camping and hunting around the valley. It’s home to my wife and me.”

Pliley served in the Army for 10 years enlisted and 14 years as an officer. He holds bachelor’s degrees in biology and environmental science and a master’s degree in business and organizational security management. He is also an avid sportsman who enjoys hunting, fishing, camping, skiing, rebuilding motorcycles, and spending time outdoors with his family.

Following his Army career, Pliley worked a two-year stint as the team leader on the Forest Service’s Northern Regional NEPA Strike Team, which served three national forests in eastern Montana and the Dakotas.

That job provided him with experience and a foundation for working within the sideboards required of many projects on national forest lands. That position and the years of leadership skills he honed with the Army have prepared him to take on the Darby ranger post, he said.

“I wanted to gain experience and figure out how the Forest Service works,” he said. “That position gave me a great foundation by working directly with rangers and forest supervisors. I knew that my next job would likely be a district ranger.”

The opportunity to move back to the Bitterroot was a dream come true.

“I have inherited an excellent staff here with a ton of knowledge and expertise on this district and across the forest,” Pliley said. “If I learned anything in the Army, it was to surround yourself with smart people in order to be successful. I’ve joined a district that has a lot going on and has the right people in the right places.”

“I equate it to military command time, where you have your different staff,” he said. “You may not be an expert in all of them but they know how to do their jobs. They just need empowerment and resourcing to get those jobs done. I’m excited to be on this team and help them complete their mission.”

The district is seeing a growing interest from the public wanting to find new places to recreate, Pliley said. Funding through the Great American Outdoors Act will provide opportunities for the district to address a variety of deferred maintenance projects.

Another priority is addressing the reduction of hazardous fuels, especially in the wildland/urban interface, he said.

Pliley is also working to reach out to the community to learn firsthand about their concerns and needs.

Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor Matt Anderson is happy to have Pliley on board.

“We selected Dan to be the next West Fork District Ranger because he has demonstrated the type of leadership skills needed to continue the great work happening up the West Fork,” Anderson said. “I’m thrilled for Dan to be able to come back to the Bitterroot to manage a landscape that is very near and dear to his heart. I encourage our neighbors and partners to reach out to Dan and discuss the challenges and opportunities of managing the incredible resources on the West Fork District.”

Dan and Trisha have two adult children who attend school and work in the Kansas City area.

Their family also includes Kona, their chocolate lab.

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