Forest Service Chief Announces Resignation After Sexual Harassment Reports

REUTERS/Max Whittaker

Michael Volpe Contributor
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The Chief of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced his resignation after multiple news reports on sexual harassment allegations.

USFS Chief Tony Tooke made the announcement in an internal email just days after PBS ran a two-part series on widespread sexual harassment at the USFS.

Following the airing of part one, the USFS announced it was investigating Tooke’s prior behavior.

In January, The Daily Caller ran a story about a two-year affair Tooke allegedly had approximately a decade ago with a subordinate.

Tooke lobbied for his paramour, who was an entry level employee at the time, to receive a promotion and threatened to retaliate against her if she spoke out about the affair, according to a former Forest Service employee who sent a letter last summer to Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson.

“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,” Tooke said. “I have been forthright during the review, but I cannot combat every inaccuracy that is reported in the news media. What I can control, however, are decisions I make today and the choice of a path for the future that is best for our employees, the Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I must also think about what is best for my family. Therefore, 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.”

“I have loved the Forest Service, our employees, and our conservation and public service mission since joining at age 18. I am so grateful for the teaching and mentoring I’ve received from so many employees from field technicians to those at all levels, people from all walks of life. I have never worked anywhere else in my career and I am so proud to have served with all of you in sustaining the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands for present and future generations. I will always be grateful for the hundreds upon hundreds of employees that I’ve worked with directly as well as the thousands of others, past and present, who have been so dedicated and committed to caring for the land and serving people.”

Tooke’s announcement came days after the USFS announced it was investigating his conduct: “The Forest Service has engaged an independent investigator to undertake a thorough review of Chief Tooke’s conduct. We take very seriously the responsibility to promote a safe, respectful, and rewarding work environment for all employees.”

The PBS investigation built on investigations by TheDC and others that have found a culture going back decades where sexual harassment and assault is widespread, and women are punished and retaliated against when they attempt to speak out.

One woman interviewed, Michaela Myers, said of her boss, “He would touch me; he would grope my butt- like my waist.”

“You can report it and face retaliation, or you can do nothing,” Myers said another colleague told her.

In November, TheDC interviewed Erinn Witmer, who said not only was she sexually assaulted by a male colleague but was put on a crew with him after the assault; after she complained, she was placed on leave and left the USFS in 2013.

The USFS provided a statement at the time saying that an investigation had found 34 cases of sexual harassment at the agency.

Following the PBS report, the agency issued this statement.

“Regarding the PBS NewsHour reports, the stories the Forest Service employees shared are important to hear, difficult and heart-wrenching as they may be. Stories like these, which have come to light over the past few years, have underscored that there are elements of sexual harassment in the Forest Service that have existed and continue today. While we have taken significant actions over the past several years to address sexual harassment in the Forest Service, we acknowledge that we have more work to do.”