US Forest Service chief resigns amid sex misconduct claims

Ns News Online DeskNs News Online Desk: US Forest Service chief Tony Tooke has resigned amid widespread allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment. Tooke’s resignation came after “PBS NewsHour” reported the US Agriculture Department was probing misconduct complaints about his relationship with subordinates prior to his current role at the forestry agency.The Forest Service last week confirmed that an independent investigator was looking into Tooke’s behavior, ABC News reported. The nature of his alleged misconduct was not disclosed.

At least 34 women working for the agency in 13 states talked to PBS, which reported a culture of sexual harassment and assault within the agency, as well as retaliation against those who reported it. Three women reported being raped. In a memo to staffers, Tooke said he has been cooperating and that he admired the courage of the women who have made complaints, according to Politico.

“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,” he wrote. “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.”

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who appointed Tooke in August, accepted his resignation Wednesday. “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,” Perdue said in a statement. “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 Forest Service, which had over 35,500 employees as of September 2017, is an agency within the USDA that fights wildfires and manages federal land. The agency has faced allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct before. The House Oversight Committee held a hearing on the issue after a 2016 Huffington Post Highline report. Several class-action lawsuits have been filed against the agency over the years. Tooke worked at the service since he was 18, specifically as associate deputy chief for the National Forest System, before he was appointed as chief, according to the agency’s website.

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