Mike Barton, who served twice as the commissioner of the Department of Transportation during the administrations of Gov. Walter J. Hickel and Gov. Frank Murkowski, passed away Nov. 21 after a long illness. He was a longtime resident of Juneau.
Born in Lincoln, Neb., Barton’s professional career began in 1959 when he joined the U.S. Forest Service as a research technician, while pursuing his education at the University of Michigan.
In 1961, he earned a bachelor’s of science degree in forestry, followed by military service in the U.S. Army. His dedication to the field of forestry led him to complete a master’s in forest hydrology in 1965, also at the University of Michigan.
Barton’s career within the U.S. Forest Service included work as a watershed scientist on the Superior National Forest for three years before advancing to the role of chief of the Water Quality Section in the Eastern Region. From 1971 to 1974, he served as the Deputy Forest Supervisor of the Ottawa National Forest in Minnesota.
In 1974, Mike Barton moved to Washington, D.C., where he held various critical roles within the U.S. Forest Service. He served as a water rights and water quality specialist, a program evaluation and system development specialist, and eventually became the director of watershed management.
In 1979, Barton’s work took him to Juneau, where he served as the Deputy Regional Forester for the Alaska Region. He rose to the position of Regional Forester in 1984, overseeing the vast Tongass and Chugach National Forests, covering 22 million acres.
Throughout his career, Barton received numerous awards for his exceptional natural resource management skills. His role as team leader on the National Fisheries Task Force was instrumental in revitalizing and strengthening the Forest Service fisheries program.
Barton played a vital role in the restoration of Prince William Sound following the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. As a founding member of the Oil Spill Trustee Council, he represented the Secretary of Agriculture in efforts to mitigate environmental damage. He also served on the Federal Subsistence Board, which established the subsistence program for federal lands in Alaska.
Beyond his government roles, Barton was deeply involved in other organizations. He actively participated in the Society of American Foresters, the Soil and Water Conservation Society of America, the American Forestry Association, the American Fisheries Society, the National Woodland Owners Association, Ducks Unlimited, the Rotary Club, and the Little League Baseball Program.
He served on the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority for five years and chaired the group from 2013 to 2015.
In 1994, Mike Barton retired from the U.S. Forest Service and was named by Gov. Hickel to be commissioner of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. Hickel did not run for reelection in 1994, and he was succeeded by Joe Perkins.
Barton was later named commissioner of DOT by Gov. Frank Murkowski. His guiding motto throughout his career was, “Never pass up an opportunity to take on more responsibility.”
In addition to being a Rotarian, Barton was a longtime member of the Capital City Republicans. His widow is Sharon Barton, a longtime Juneau civic leader. More details will be added to this report, including the time and place of a memorial service, as they become available.