PBS NewsHour: Tony Tooke, head of U.S. Forest Service, stepping down amid sexual misconduct allegations

Breaking news from PBS Newshour:

The chief of the U.S. Forest Service is stepping down amid allegations of sexual misconduct and an investigation commissioned by the United States Department of Agriculture into his own behavior.

Tony Tooke, who became chief in September after nearly four decades with the agency, wrote in an email to staff Wednesday that his retirement was effective immediately.

The news comes days after a PBS NewsHour investigation revealed a widespread culture of sexual harassment and assault within the agency, and retaliation against those who reported it.

That investigation also revealed claims of sexual misconduct against Tooke, including relationships with his subordinates before he became chief.

The United States Department of Agriculture confirmed last week it had “engaged an independent investigator” to look into claims about Tooke’s behavior.

In his email Wednesday, Tooke wrote: “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.”

“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,” he also wrote.

PBS Newshour had a bunch of the background:

U.S. Forest Service chief under investigation after complaints of sexual misconduct (here)

They reported sexual harassment. Then the U.S. Forest Service retaliation began (here)

8 thoughts on “PBS NewsHour: Tony Tooke, head of U.S. Forest Service, stepping down amid sexual misconduct allegations”

  1. This is an increasingly rare example of what happens when news media fulfills its responsibility to the public interest, (and all the usual obfuscation, denial, and equivocation which has emerged in discussions here, nothwithstanding.)

  2. I think that Tony’s resignation was the best thing for the agency at this time.

    However, I disagree with PBS that there is “widespread culture of sexual harassment and assault within the agency, and retaliation against those who reported it.” I don’t think that that’s an accurate characterization. I wish some tech savvy person could map all the sexual harassment complaints (say 2010-2018, colored by year.. I bet patterns would emerge that would be of interest. Fire is not “the agency.” Region 5 is not “the agency.”

    • Of the incidents in the PBS show, all were in fire, but at least one of them was not in Region 5. If there is a concentration in R5 in Fire, then I think that is a pretty good indication that perhaps a Regional Forest should consider resigning too along with some District Rangers and some district Fire Staff Officers. Time to clean house and make a statement.

      With sexual harassment going unreported (not uncommon, unfortunately), I don’t think that what has been reported would be a very good indication. A confidential survey conducted by an outside organization would probably give a more accurate picture. And, before the agency launches on “training” (which, in my opinion, is not very effective for these types of things – it just pushes the perpetrators farther underground), they should do a survey of some sort to determine the scope and scale of the “problem”.

      While it wasn’t sexual harassment, I did work in an office where my supervisor was known as the office lecher. the other men in the office did a great job of keeping him in line whenever he started to misbehave – and some of those folks were his own supervisees who had worked with him for a long time. He never would have changed with “training”.

  3. My experience in USFS was that employee harassment and leadership cover-up seemed common. And if a ranger or SO type did something sordid or illegal they generally were shipped out with a promotion. I guess moving the problem out was less risky for a forest sup than to admit their oversight and leadership was lacking. But what PBS described is not day to day life for permanent employees on a forest. Nonethess would I advise a newbie forested to work for USFS? Absolutely not!

  4. Clearly we have a problem and clearly it is mostly in the fire organization. Will forcing the Chief into retirement change anything? I doubt it.

    Look at the numbers reported by PBS – of the more than 600 complaints filed on the new sexual harassment hotline, less than 1/3 of the resolutions resulted in a finding of misconduct. More than 400 women filing frivolous complaints? Given the culture of fear and reprisal that was also described, I question how well our system works. Add to that the male fire employee who stated in the PBS interview that he continued his behavior because he knew the system would not convict him. I wish I could say I know the solution.

    I don’t know what Tony Tooke did or didn’t do and neither does PBS. I am concerned about who will replace him.

    • “Will forcing the Chief into retirement change anything? I doubt it.”

      I unequivocally doubt it. We are talking about something far greater than #MeToo. While I’ve been following these extensive discussions in several posts, I’ve refrained from commenting long enough.

      First, institutionalized misogyny (certainly not limited to the USDA) is but a symptom of a far larger disease. That terminal disease is the maniacal social Darwinism of patriarchy. Patriarchy is at war with anything that represents a challenge to its assertions of power.

      Second, patriarchy is embedded in our genetic memory since the agricultural revolution through monotheism, etc. and is the consequent, dominant (illegitimate) worldview driving our present collective suicide pact that most of us did not sign-on to. Patriarchy practices an equal opportunity system of systematic (race/state/species/gender/etc.) repression — but in this case for sure –> Patriarchy gets most acknowledged in terms of gender but in fact, gets fully exerted utterly regardless of gender.

      Third, the usual obfuscation, denial, and equivocations emerging in these myriad discussions on the urgent matter of responding to #MeToo (strangely confined within the fire divisions of USFS) needs to be understood for what they actually represent: normal human manifestations of the consequences of cognitive dissonance. There exists a complex range of “us vs. them” behavioral responses in which to attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable. These include, “glad it was not me”; “she (might’ve) deserved it”; “I hope that doesn’t happen to me”; “this only happens in fire, (or somewhere else)” such as within a discrete agency, region or department, etc., etc., etc. (ad nauseam.)

      Please step back to reconsider these denialisms, obfuscations and equivocations with the broadest and kindest of intentions.

      There are no doubt, many other ways in which we collectively struggle with how best to respond to the cognitive dissonance of our “civilization.” But don’t confuse symptoms with causation and the disease itself. The disease is maintained by and large, by the tried and true strategy of divide and conquer, us vs. them, etc. By all appearances, the responses of apologists, denialists, and equivocation-ists for #MeToo merge into the central theme for the epitaph of humanity and the biosphere it has “managed” to “conquer” : that we are somehow separate from each other and the rest of the inhabitants of the biosphere. That is tragically false.

      I urgently and humbly suggest a phase two evolution of #MeToo.

      Please — let’s collectively evolve to the next stage of, #MeToo: perhaps call it, ” #WETOO! ” (I don’t do Twitter, but I ask anyone who does “get” this — Please adopt this hashtag and pass this on.)

      • Oddly, You are almost in agreement with Steve Bannon. Only Bannon believes the vehicle likely to derail 10,000 years of Patriarchy is #TIMESUP. From: https://www.gq.com/story/steve-bannon-february-2018-interview

        The Time’s Up movement is much more fundamental and actually many steps above MeToo. It’s basically going against 10,000 years of recorded history. That’s the power of it. You see here something that’s in a very early, raw stage, but I’ve never seen such potential power in something.

        Bannon, of course, is not talking about what you are. He is just worried about the rise of women, whereas you (and I) want to empower this movement as one of several movements that can merge to protect both humans and others on Earth.


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