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.
News of this investigation comes as the Forest Service is dealing with allegations of a broader culture of harassment and retaliation within its ranks, as detailed in an investigation published by the PBS NewsHour this week.
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.
In a statement, Forest Service press officer Babete Anderson said the investigation would “undertake a thorough review of [Tooke’s] conduct. We take very seriously the responsibility to promote a safe, respectful and rewarding work environment for all employees.”
When asked about the allegations, Tooke said in an email: “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.”
In an email to employees responding to the NewsHour’s original report, a spokesman from Tooke’s office 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.”
It continues: “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 statement, from Dan Jiron, acting deputy undersecretary for natural resources and the environment, did not mention Tooke.
After the NewsHour team reported on those allegations this week, more than 45 women and men also came forward with their own stories about the agency. If you are in the U.S. Forest Service and want to share your experience, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.