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
  • NEWS DIRECTOR
    Based in the state capitol, Boise State Public Radio is the premier NPR affiliate in Idaho. With 18 transmitters and translators, it reaches 2/3rds of...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUST
    Organization Background: The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, founded in 2006. Our mission is to protect the ecosystems of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • WRITING PLACE: THE ANIMAS RIVER REGION WRITING WORKSHOP
    REGISTER ONLINE BY: Friday, June 15 WHERE: Durango, CO (location TBD) WHEN: Monday, July 16 Youth workshop: 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. (18 and under,...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    HawkWatch International seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our awesome team! This position will provide support in all aspects of the department. We are looking...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details: