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.
A spokeswoman for the Forest Service would not answer questions about Tooke's departure. Tooke did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement he accepted Tooke's resignation today.
"The Forest Service is filled with dedicated employees from across this nation who devote their lives to promoting healthy and productive forests for the benefit of taxpayers and our environment. In my experience, in order to effectively lead any organization, you must have the moral authority to inspire its members to work toward the goal of continuous improvement. Chief Tooke has determined that it is best for the Forest Service, its future, and its employees that he step aside. I thank him for his decades of service to this nation and to the conservation of its natural resources," the statement read.
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