Forest Service chief resigns over allegations of sexual misconduct

Tony Tooke stepped down from his role but disputes allegations against him.

 

The chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Tony Tooke, resigned on Wednesday after allegations of sexual harassment against him surfaced. According to PBS NewsHour, which first reported the accusations, the Forest Service hired an independent investigator to look into allegations that Tooke had improper relationships with subordinates before he became the head of the agency. Tooke has worked for the Forest Service for nearly 40 years.

In a letter to employees announcing his retirement, Tooke touted his dedication to the agency and deflected blame for his actions. “Each employee deserves a leader who can maintain the proper moral authority to steer the Forest Service along this important and challenging course,” Tooke wrote.

“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 wrote. “I have been forthright during the review, but I cannot combat every inaccuracy that is reported in the news media.”

Tooke did not specify what reports he labelled inaccurate.

There’s so much work to do in the field of sexual harassment and elsewhere that it was the right thing for him to do to resign so the agency can get back to work,” said Sharon Friedman, the editor of the New Century of Forest Planning blog, a hub for discussion of public land issues.

Federal land management agencies have been slow to take action in recent years, as evidence of a widespread culture of harassment came to light. Agencies like the Forest Service and National Park Service, which have predominantly male workforces, have long standing issues of harassment and sexism and a history of not holding workers accused of harassment accountable. Reporting has found that agencies swept complaints under the rug by rotating employees and in some cases even promoted staff accused of sexual harassment.

Female firefighters have long complained of harassment in the field and in the office, including taunting posts and even attempted rape by higher ranking co-workers. In one case reported by High Country News in 2016, a female Forest Service firefighter reported that a supervisor who choked and tried to rape her kept his job after she reported the attack. In their investigation of the Forest Service, PBS NewsHour found an environment that “remains hostile to female employees.”

The Park Service and Department of Interior have similarly been under scrutiny since a report from the Department of Interior’s Office of Inspector General revealed that reports of sexual misconduct and harassment in the Grand Canyon went unaddressed for over 15 years. An investigation by High Country News found similar inaction was widespread at other parks and in the Department of Interior at large. A survey released last fall found that nearly 40 percent of National Park Service employees experienced some form of harassment over a 12-month period.

The Forest Service and Department of Agriculture could not be reached for comment on Tooke’s resignation as of press time.

If you are a federal public land employee and would like to report your own experience with sexual harassment, please fill out our confidential tip form.

High Country News Classifieds
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Utah's largest conservation organization, has an immediate opening in its Salt Lake City office for a staff attorney. SUWA's...
  • DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST
    Idaho Walk Bike Alliance seeks a lover of bicycling, walking, and all modes of active transportation who willingly puts the car in the garage and...
  • COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Friends of Inyo - the Communications Director is a full-time permanent position that reports to the Executive Director and utilizes communication strategies and production skills...
  • INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS EDITOR
    High Country News seeks an editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk. This individual will lead a team of passionate journalists...
  • HIKING TO THE EDGE:
    Confronting Cancer in Rocky Mountain National Park. Poetry and photos on survival thinking. E-book and paperback available at Amazon.com.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation has grown into America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more than...
  • IPLC RIGHTS AND EQUITY PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    A LITTLE ABOUT US Founded in 1951, the Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FUTURE WEST
    Future West seeks an executive director to lead this dynamic organization into the future. Based in Bozeman, MT this well-respected nonprofit provides communities in the...
  • PART-TIME EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mitchell Museum of the American Indian Location: Evanston, IL Salary Range: $45,000 @ 24 hours per week. send resume: [email protected] www.mitchellmuseum.org
  • COMMUNICATIONS LEAD
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR
    Since 1989, The Nature Conservancy in Alaska has been doing work you can believe in protecting the lands and waters that all life depends on....
  • OUTDOOR PROGRAM - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
    St. Lawrence University seeks to fill the position of Assistant Director in the Outdoor Program. To view the complete position description, including minimum qualifications required,...
  • PUBLIC LANDS DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a dedicated advocate for conservation and public lands Public Lands Director a "make a difference" position Conserve Southwest...
  • FOR SALE
    Yellowstone Llamas Successful Yellowstone NP concession Flexible packages
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT & MARKETING
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners is seeking a full-time Director of Development & Marketing. This is a senior position responsible for the development of all marketing...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR
    The Legal Director will work closely with the Executive Director in cultivating a renewed vision at NMELC that integrates diversity, equity, and justice. Black, Indigenous,...
  • WE'RE LOOKING FOR LEADERS!
    As we celebrate 50 years of great Western journalism, High Country News is looking for a few new board members to help set a course...
  • WIND RIVER WRITERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS RETREAT BY THE NATIONAL BIGHORN SHEEP CENTER
    Enhance your writing or photography skills with world-class instructors in the beautiful Wind River Mountains. All skill levels welcome. Continuing education credits available.
  • EARTH CRUISER FX FOR SALE
    Overland Vehicle for travel on or off road. Fully self contained. Less than 41,000 miles. Recently fully serviced Located in Redmond, OR $215'000.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    identifies suspect buried trash, tanks, drums &/or utilities and conducts custom-designed subsurface investigations that support post-damage litigation.