Vicki Christiansen selected interim Forest Service Chief

She replaces Tony Tooke who suddenly resigned March 7.

Above: Vicki Christiansen testifies before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee August 3, 2017.

(Originally published at 10:25 a.m. MST March 9, 2018)

Amid reports of widespread sexual harassment and misconduct within the Forest Service, and especially among firefighters, a woman will now lead the agency. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has selected Victoria (Vicki) Christiansen to be the interim Chief of the Forest Service. She replaces Tony Tooke who suddenly resigned March 7 after allegations of sexual misconduct were aired on the PBS program NewsHour.

Below is an excerpt from a message Mr. Perdue sent to employees Thursday afternoon:

With seven years at the Forest Service and 30 with the states of Arizona and Washington, Vicki knows what is needed to restore our forests and put them back to work for the taxpayers. As a former wildland firefighter and fire manager, she knows first-hand that failure to properly maintain forests leads to longer and more severe fire seasons. And as a former State Forester, she knows the benefits of Good Neighbor Authority and how best to partner with our state and local colleagues. Vicki’s professional experience will complement these efforts and help us achieve those objectives.

As we promote and maintain healthy, productive forests and preserve our natural resources, we will work to ensure a place where people can work with respect and dignity.

Ms. Christiansen has experience in wildland fire suppression. After obtaining a degree in forestry at the University of Washington in 1983 she accrued firefighting experience with the Washington Department of Natural Resources. There is one report that she was qualified to use fireline explosives. Thirteen years after graduating she was the Washington State Forester. Between 2006 and 2012 she served in five different positions with the Washington DNR, Arizona Division of Forestry, and the U.S. Forest Service. Her last job before becoming interim USFS Chief was Deputy Chief, State and Private Forestry with the USFS.

In a Senate committee hearing August 3, 2017 Ms. Christiansen talked about budget issues and logging. She was also asked about water scooping air tankers by Senator Maria Cantwell. Here is the official transcript at 52:50, which was compiled from uncorrected Closed Captioning.



Victoria Christiansen
Forest Service National Director of Fire and Aviation Management Shawna Legarza (on the right) briefs Sonny Perdue and Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID), Steve Daines (R-MT), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Jim Risch (R-ID), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) at the Forest Service for a 2017 fire briefing, in the USDA Forest Service Headquarters, Yates Building Fire Desk, on Sept. 26, 2017. Victoria Christiansen is on Ms. Legarza’s right. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

We first wrote about Ms. Christiansen May 14, 2009:

Victoria Christiansen
A screenshot from a Wildfire Today article published May 14, 2009.

Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke resigns

(Originally published at 5:36 p.m. MST March 7, 2018)

Tony Tooke, the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service has resigned. Recently the agency confirmed that the Department of Agriculture has “engaged an independent investigator” to look into complaints against the Chief.

In an email to FS employees sent at 3:16 p.m. MST March 7 Chief Tooke wrote:

…Therefore, I have decided that what is needed right now is for me to step down as Forest Service Chief and make way for a new leader that can ensure future success for all employees and the agency…

To our knowledge the first reports of impropriety by Chief Tooke that were reported by a reputable news organization came on March 2 from the PBS program NewsHour, which received confirmation about the investigation from the FS. It was disclosed during the program’s second installment in their series about sexual harassment in the agency.

Tony Tooke
Tony Tooke. USFS

We have not seen any allegations of sexual harassment by Chief Tooke — PBS used the term “sexual misconduct”. One of our sources told us that the investigators were looking into what appeared to be a consensual relationship with a subordinate and that the woman involved had not filed a complaint.

Below is the complete text of Chief Tooke’s email sent Wednesday afternoon to Forest Service employees:

Subject: My Commitment to All Forest Service Employees, Our Mission, and the Best Possible Future

Every Forest Service employee deserves a safe and respectful workplace free of harassment. Each employee deserves the very best leadership to bring about the cultural change necessary to rid the Forest Service of harassment, bullying, and retaliation.

Many of you have seen the news reports which included the stories from women who told of their experiences with sexual harassment in the Forest Service. I admire their courage. Their stories are heartbreaking and reveal that we must do much more to achieve a safe, positive, and respectful work environment for all employees. Please know that Forest Service leadership is committed to investing in the changes and resources needed to improve and become much better.

Though we still have much to do, we have taken steps to improve policies, accountability, reporting systems, and training. A Senior Advisor has been designated to focus on work environment and an employee advisory group is being formed to help. However, we must address the drivers in our culture and change the systems that allow harassment, bullying and retribution to occur. Every employee must feel safe, valued, respected and free to speak up without fear of reprisal.

We are in a moment at the Forest Service when we have a tremendous opportunity to mold a bright and successful future in delivering our mission. To seize this moment, however, the right leadership must be in place to create an atmosphere in which employees can perform their very best work. Each employee deserves a leader who can maintain the proper moral authority to steer the Forest Service along this important and challenging course.

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. I have been forthright during the review, but I cannot combat every inaccuracy that is reported in the news media. What I can control, however, are decisions I make today and the choice of a path for the future that is best for our employees, the Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I must also think about what is best for my family. Therefore, I have decided that what is needed right now is for me to step down as Forest Service Chief and make way for a new leader that can ensure future success for all employees and the agency.

I have loved the Forest Service, our employees, and our conservation and public service mission since joining at age 18. I am so grateful for the teaching and mentoring I’ve received from so many employees from field technicians to those at all levels, people from all walks of life. I have never worked anywhere else in my career and I am so proud to have served with all of you in sustaining the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands for present and future generations. I will always be grateful for the hundreds upon hundreds of employees that I’ve worked with directly as well as the thousands of others, past and present, who have been so dedicated and committed to caring for the land and serving people.

I thank Secretary Perdue for the opportunity to serve you as Chief and for the tremendous support he has shown for the Forest Service and the work we do: I also thank all of you for the support and confidence that you’ve shown in me in this role. I am proud of all of you, including our partners and volunteers, for all that you do every day to serve the American people and care for our natural resources and public lands.

I wish each of you the very best. My retirement will be effective immediately.


Allegations of sexual misconduct in the Forest Service go all the way to the top

An “independent investigator” is looking into complaints against Chief Tony Tooke

Tony Tooke
Tony Tooke. USFS

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.

Below is an excerpt from the NewsHour article, dated 6:35 p.m. EST March 2, 2018.

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

Chief Tooke is, of course, innocent until proven guilty of the sexual misconduct allegations.

Our opinion:

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?

Tony Tooke selected as new Forest Service Chief

(Originally published at 7:50 p.m. MDT August 21, 2017)

Tony Tooke
Tony Tooke. USFS photo.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has selected Tony Tooke to be the Chief of the U. S. Forest Service. Now the Regional Director of the agency’s Southern Region, he will replace Tom Tidwell who announced his retirement August 18.

Immediately before he became a Regional Forester Mr. Tooke was the Associate Deputy Chief for the National Forest System where he oversaw Lands and Realty, Minerals and Geology, Ecosystem Management Coordination, Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers, the National Partnership Office, and Business Administration and Support Services. In addition to many other positions in the USFS Washington Office, he served as Deputy Forest Supervisor for the National Forests in Florida; District Ranger assignments on the Talladega NF in Alabama, the Oconee NF in Georgia, and the DeSoto NF in Mississippi; Timber Management Assistant, Silviculturist, and Forester on six Ranger Districts in Mississippi and Kentucky.

He grew up on a small farm near Detroit, Alabama and earned a degree in Forestry at Mississippi State University (go Bulldogs!).

Below is an excerpt from an announcement by Secretary Perdue about his appointment of Mr. Tooke:

…I want to introduce you to our next Chief, Tony Tooke, one of our own.  Tony was practically born into our Forest Service, starting at the age of 18.  He currently is the Regional Forester for the Southern Region.

Tony’s knowledge of forestry is unmatched.  He will oversee efforts to get our forests working for the rightful owners – the American people. His focus will be on ensuring we are good neighbors with our partners in state and local governments.

The stewardship of our forests is an awesome and sacred responsibility.  No one knows that better than Tony.  He has been preparing for this role for his whole professional life, and at a time when we face active and growing fires, his transition into leadership will be seamless.  As we move into a new season, I look forward to hearing how each member of the USFS family gives Tony your full support.

Working together we will make our forests more productive, and create more jobs.  In short we will get our forests working again.  Please join me in welcoming Tony to the USDA family.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Ken.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.