The Latest: Forest Service gets new chief amid scandal

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Latest on U.S. Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke stepping down as he faces an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct. (all times local):

3:30 p.m.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has appointed a former wildland firefighter to lead the Forest Service in the wake of the abrupt retirement of its chief amid sexual misconduct allegations.

Perdue announced the appointment of Vickie Christiansen in a Thursday email to employees.

Perdue says “it has been a difficult week in the Forest Service” and that the agency is taking steps to improve its working environment.

Christiansen had been serving as a deputy chief since 2016.

Former agency chief Tony Tooke retired Wednesday, days after PBS NewsHour revealed allegations that he was having relationships with subordinates and that he was under investigation.

Lawmakers from both parties in Congress expressed outrage over the latest in a string of harassment allegations that have shaken the Forest Service in recent years.

12:15 p.m.

Lawmakers in Congress are calling for a hearing and investigation into sexual harassment at the U.S. Forest Service following the departure of its chief amid sexual misconduct allegations.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines of Montana said Thursday he is calling for a congressional hearing, saying that he wants to ensure “bad actors are held accountable.”

Daines says Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke made the right decision to retire, days after it was revealed by PBS NewsHour that Tooke allegedly had relationships with former subordinates and was under investigation. The move followed reports in recent years of rampant harassment within the agency.

Rep. Jackie Speier of California, a Democrat and leading voice in Congress against sex harassment, called for a broad investigation of the Forest Service’s “toxic culture” by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

10 a.m.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke has stepped down after an investigation was launched into sexual misconduct allegations against him.

A Forest Service spokesman on Thursday confirmed Tooke’s sudden retirement just seven months after he took over an agency that has been rocked over the past two years by reports of rampant sexual harassment.

His departure comes less than a week after PBS NewsHour reported Tooke was under investigation following relationships with subordinates before he became chief.

In a Wednesday night email to Forest Service employees, Tooke said he had cooperated with the investigation. He did not directly deny the allegations but said he “cannot combat every inaccuracy that is reported.”

The Forest Service oversees 154 national forests and 20 grasslands in 43 states and Puerto Rico.

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