Anyone who has spent any time within the National Park Service (NPS) knows the name of Bob Barbee. Bob served within the ranks of the NPS for 42 years in national park units that included Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, Point Reyes, Big Bend, Cape Lookout, Cape Hatteras, Hawaii Volcanoes, Redwoods, and in various regional office positions in California and as Alaska Regional Director. However, he is best known for his time serving as superintendent of Yellowstone National Park from 1981 to 1993.
While Bob’s cumulative achievements in Yellowstone are too numerous to recount, he will always be remembered for the way he handled the epic 1988 Yellowstone Fires and persevered through the intensity of that long summer. He faced hordes of people, news media and an endless stream of politicians all wanting to dictate how he should be managing the fires and with some calling for his removal.
With the hindsight of some 28 years now, it is clear Bob’s leadership in managing the extreme fire situation in 1988 ultimately shaped the future of federal wildland fire management policy. Today many of the methods used in Yellowstone in 1988 are now mainstream tactics in managing large wildland fires for resource benefit, economics and most importantly for human safety.
Bob holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Colorado State University (CSU) and has subsequently been honored by his alma mater as a distinguished alumnus. He has been recognized with the Department of the Interior’s three highest honor awards (Superior Service, Distinguished Service and Meritorious Service) along with numerous other awards including those from the White House, National Parks and Conservation Association, and CSU.
Anyone fortunate enough to know Bob also knows his incredible wife Carol. Together they have shared their lives in some of our nation’s most iconic landscapes, parented three daughters and are the proud grandparents of seven grandkids. They have entertained presidents and kings as well as seasonal park employees who had no place to sleep for a night or two between jobs. Their hospitality is legend and many a national decision was made around their kitchen table or campfire with some the nation’s highest officials.
Bob passed away on Sunday, October 2, 2016, at home in Bozeman, MT.