Interim Forest Service head wins role after ex-chief left amid investigation

Posted at 3:46 PM, Oct 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-11 17:46:39-04

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue appointed Vicki Christiansen as the new Forest Service chief, and she was sworn in Thursday.

She had been serving as the interim chief since March, when then-Chief Tony Tooke resigned amid reports that the agency was looking into misconduct allegations against him.

Christiansen has been at the Forest Service since 2010. She started working as a wildland firefighter while she was in college in Washington state, and she has been a firefighter and fire manager for 36 years, according to a US Department of Agriculture news release.

“As a former wildland firefighter and fire manager, Chief Christiansen knows what’s needed to restore our forests and put them back to work for the taxpayers,” Perdue said in the news release. “With seven years at the Forest Service and 30 years with the states of Arizona and Washington, Vicki’s professional experience makes me confident that she will thrive in this role and hit the ground running.”

“PBS NewsHour” published an investigation detailing accounts of sexual harassment at the Forest Service on March 1, which included claims of sexual misconduct against Tooke. He resigned a week after the investigation was published.

In an email to employees in March, Tooke said, “Many of you have seen the news reports which included the stories from women who told of their experiences with sexual harassment in the Forest Service. … In some of these news reports, you may have seen references to my own behavior in the past. This naturally raised questions about my record and prompted an investigation, which I requested and fully support, and with which I have cooperated.”

“I have been forthright during the review, but I cannot combat every inaccuracy that is reported in the news media. … I have decided that what is needed right now is for me to step down as Forest Service Chief and make way for a new leader that can ensure future success for all employees and the agency,” he said in the email.

While Tooke had only become chief under President Donald Trump’s tenure, he had worked at the Forest Service since he was a teenager, according to a news release from when he was appointed.