Vicki Christiansen to stay on as head of Forest Service

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue appoints a permanent Forest Service chief.

 

Vicki Christiansen is set to become the permanent chief of the U.S. Forest Service, after seven months as the interim head. She replaced former Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke, who resigned amidst sexual harassment allegations in March.

“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,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in a press release announcing the appointment on Oct. 10. Her appointment received bipartisan support and her tenure as interim chief has been free of many of the scandals that have plagued her predecessors and other land managers under the Trump administration. Christiansen has worked in wildland firefighting and forestry for 36 years and joined the Forest Service in 2010, according to the press release.

Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen testifies before a Senate committee in August.

Christiansen leads an agency that has struggled with a culture of harassment, especially among firefighters. Reports of a pervasive culture of mistreatment of female firefighters, including rape allegations, have revealed an institutional pattern of misconduct and lack of accountability in the Forest Service. Public land agencies in the Department of Interior have dealt with hostile work environments, as well.

The Society of American Foresters, a nonprofit organization of forestry professionals, applauded her appointment. “Her accomplishments speak for themselves, and we believe she’s the strong leader that the agency needs,” the organization wrote on its Twitter account. “Looking forward to working together toward safe, respectful work environments for all.”

Christiansen’s background in firefighting follows a growing focus on fire in Forest Service leadership, spending and employment. Firefighting accounts for more than half of the agency’s budget, up from about 15 percent in 1995. In 2017, the Forest Service spent over $2.4 billion on fire suppression. And the costs of firefighting are expected to continue to rise, taking up even more of the Forest Service’s budgets.

Carl Segerstrom is an editorial fellow for High Country News. Email him at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor. 

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