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GROVELAND, CA - AUGUST 25: U.S. Forest Service firefighters take a break from battling the Rim Fire at Camp Mather on August 25, 2013 near Groveland, California. The Rim Fire continues to burn out of control and threatens 4,500 homes outside of Yosemite National Park. Over 2,000 firefighters are battling the blaze that has entered a section of Yosemite National Park and is currently 7 percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Forest Service acknowledges ‘we have more work to do’ to address sexual harassment

A day after a PBS NewsHour investigation revealed a culture of sexual harassment, assault and retaliation within the U.S. Forest Service, the agency is telling employees that “we acknowledge that we have more work to do.”

In an email to employees responding to the NewsHour’s original report, a spokesman from the office of Chief Tony Tooke said: “The stories the Forest Service employees shared during the PBS NewsHour piece are important to hear, difficult and heart-wrenching as they may be. Stories like these, which have come to light over the past few years, have underscored that there are elements of sexual harassment in the Forest Service that have existed and continue today.”

The message, sent by Dan Jiron, acting deputy undersecretary for natural resources and the environment, continued: “While we have taken significant actions over the past several years to address sexual harassment in the Forest Service, we acknowledge that we have more work to do. These are critical issues that the Forest Service must continue to take on to increase our efforts to protect our fellow employees so they know they can speak up and speak out, without any fear of retaliation or reprisal. We continue to consult with outside experts and focus internal resources to help us better support victims of harassment during investigations. Victims must know that there will be accountability for persons who engage in sexual harassment and reprisal. We are committed to our duty to create a workplace that is respectful, rewarding, and above all, a safe place for all employees. The Forest Service is committed to permanently changing our culture to create the workplace we all deserve.”

The message came as the United States Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service’s parent agency, confirmed it was opening an investigation into Tooke following complaints about sexual misconduct before he became chief.

In an email, Tooke said: “I’m in support of this investigation, and I have fully cooperated from the start. I expect to be held to the same standards as every other Forest Service employee.”

The PBS NewsHour’s Elizabeth Flock and Josh Barajas reported for this story.

If you are in the U.S. Forest Service and want to share your experience, email us at tipline@newshour.org.

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