Tony Tooke Officially On the Job with a Focus on More Active Management
After a week officially on the job, Tony Tooke was sworn in as Forest Service chief today in a ceremony at the Department of Agriculture.
"We have literally reached out and chosen one of you," Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Forest Service employees at USDA headquarters. Tooke was promoted from regional forester for the Southern Region.
"We're going to listen to everyone," Tooke said, adding that he'll emphasize improved forest management, greater recreational access and policies "anchored in science."
Tooke, who took the oath of office from Perdue last week at the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, already faces wildfire challenges in Oregon and other parts of the West. He is under pressure to pursue a more active approach to forest management that advocates say will reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire.
With one of the nation's costliest wildfire seasons ongoing, Tooke plans to travel quickly to Oregon and the Northern Rockies to see firefighting efforts. "We're confronting a historic fire season," he said.
His agency received some relief this week when the Senate, in a hurricane disaster aid bill, agreed to avert "fire borrowing" in the budget this year. That means the Forest Service won't have to drain other accounts to cover the costs of fighting wildfires.
A long-term solution to fire budgeting continues to elude Congress, and Perdue said last week that it's frustrating to see 55 percent of the Forest Service's budget going to wildfire suppression. This year may the most expensive yet for wildfires, he said.
Perdue said he hopes Tooke joins him in pressing Congress to "fix the fire borrowing problem once and for all."
The USDA chief told reporters later that he believes a more active management approach can help reduce those costs over the long term. "We can prevent a lot of these forest fires going forward," Perdue said.
Lobbyists and former Forest Service officials say it's likely Tooke will make active forest management a top priority, given his background as a regional forester in the timber-heavy South.