US Forest Service Chief Retires Amid Sex Misconduct Claims

Tony Tooke says it's best to 'make way for a new leader' after PBS investigation
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 8, 2018 8:27 AM CST
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's US Forest Service ranger jacket hangs on the podium before a ceremony at the Agriculture Department in Washington on Oct. 30, 2013.   (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

(Newser) – After just six months on the job, the head of the US Forest Service is stepping down after a PBS probe revealed not only claims of sexual harassment and assault throughout the agency in general, but also accusations of misconduct against Tony Tooke himself, PBS reports. Tooke's retirement, which is effective immediately, comes just a few days after a PBS NewsHour investigation into both the Forest Service and Tooke, who informed his staff he'd be leaving in a Wednesday email obtained by Politico and BuzzFeed. While Tooke didn't confirm or deny the allegations against him—allegations that the New York Times says haven't yet been spelled out—he says, "I cannot combat every inaccuracy that is reported in the news media," and therefore feels it's best to "make way for a new leader that can ensure future success for all employees and the agency."

PBS talked to 34 current and former Forest Service female workers, who described a hostile work environment that included everything from bullying and sexual harassment to groping and rape. Many women also allege retaliation after they reported these incidents. The Forest Service says its parent agency, the Department of Agriculture, has "engaged an independent investigator" to look into specific allegations against Tooke, who has been with the Forest Service since he was 18. Tooke wrote in his email that "I admire the courage" of the women who've come forward about the Forest Service and that "each employee deserves a leader who can maintain the proper moral authority to steer the Forest Service along this important and challenging course." Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue thanked Tooke in a statement for "his decades of service to this nation and to the conservation of its natural resources."

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