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
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Mountain Lion Foundation is seeking an Executive Director. Please see our website for further information - mountainlion.org/job-openings
  • WASHINGTON DC REPRESENTATIVE
    Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Washington, DC Position Reports to: Program Director The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is seeking a Washington, DC Representative...
  • REGIONAL CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    Position Title: Regional Campaign Organizers (2 positions) Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Preferred Billings, MT; remote location within WORC's region (in or near Grand Junction...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....
  • HEALTH FOOD STORE IN NW MONTANA
    Turn-key business includes 2500 sq ft commercial building in main business district of Libby, Montana. 406.293.6771 /or [email protected]