When the PBS program NewsHour announced that the second installment of their story on sexual harassment in the U.S. Forest Service would continue Friday night, we didn’t know it would implicate the Chief of the agency Tony Tooke.
The U.S. Forest Service has confirmed that the United States Department of Agriculture, its parent agency, has “engaged an independent investigator” to look into complaints against Chief Tony Tooke.
In the course of reporting its investigation, the PBS NewsHour discovered allegations of sexual misconduct against Tooke, specifically relationships with his subordinates, before he became chief.
And, NewsHour’s 7-minute video:
The first installment of the story Thursday night reported on interviews with dozens of U.S. Forest Service female employees, many of them firefighters. The women gave numerous examples of gender discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment, and assault by crew members and supervisors. Three women said they were raped by fellow employees.
On August 21, 2017 Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that he selected Tony Tooke to be the Chief of the Forest Service. At that time the Regional Director of the agency’s Southern Region, Mr. Tooke replaced Tom Tidwell who announced his retirement August 18. Secretary Perdue said about Mr. Tooke:
The Forest Service will be in good hands with the U.S. Forest Service’s own Tony Tooke…As we move into a new season, I look forward to hearing how each member of the USFS family gives Tony your full support…
In a December 1, 2017 message, devoted solely to sexual harassment in the agency, Chief Tooke wrote, in part:
The work to eliminate harassment remains paramount — beyond our progress in mandatory training, reporting, investigations, and taking disciplinary actions. The work ahead, among other steps, must also center on permanently changing our work culture by uplifting and empowering employees. Every employee possesses the right to a safe, respectful workplace where they feel valued, but it takes all of us to protect that right.
NewsHour reported that since September, 2016, the Forest Service has received 1,013 reports of harassment, and completed inquiries or investigations in 632 cases. Of those, the agency said it found misconduct in 150 cases. Since NewsHour published their first report Thursday, more than 45 women and men also came forward with their own stories about the agency after their request to contact them by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chief Tooke is, of course, innocent until proven guilty of the sexual misconduct allegations.
This is a disgusting, demoralizing, distasteful, detestable scandal facing the agency where I spent 20 years. Looking at the sheer numbers, and knowing that allegations of sexual misconduct go all the way to the top, it is hard to fathom how anyone who has been mistreated can be optimistic that the harassment will stop, or that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.
This HAS to be the Forest Service’s number one priority — clean up this wreckage that is festering within their workforce.
Would you recommend that your sister, daughter, girlfriend, or spouse apply for a job with the U.S. Forest Service?