Vicki Christiansen was sworn in as the 19th Chief of the United States Forest Service Thursday, pledging to lead a productive department that would offer a safe work environment for all.
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue administered the oath of office at the Forest Service’s Washington headquarters, where he charged Christiansen with achieving his “high expectations” and “big plans.”
“I had an opportunity to visit with the regional foresters yesterday, and we had a great discussion about a new vision for what we’re going to be able to do in the Forest Service,” he said. Christiansen has “earned my confidence,” Perdue added.
Speaking with reporters after the ceremony, Perdue said USFS will work to build upon existing Good Neighbor Authority, which allows the service to work with states on forest management practices.
“We’re going to do a better job of truly being good neighbors rather than just in name only,” Perdue said. Given Christiansen’s experience as a state forester, Perdue noted “this is a mission that the chief understands very well.”
For her part, Christiansen, who joined the Forest Service in 2010 and has been serving as interim chief since March, rolled out plans to operate the agency in a way consistent with its mandate to preserve the nation’s forests.
“The Forest Service is a conservation leader, and we’re going to redeem that leadership responsibility,” she said.
She also referenced an issue that has dogged the Forest Service for years: reports of sexual harassment and assault among its fire crews. In her speech, she said the agency “cannot achieve our mission unless we have a safe and respectful work environment for everyone.” Speaking to reporters after the swearing-in ceremony, she described plans to create an employee environment “free from harassment and retaliation.”
“Directly tied to our mission are the employees, and every employee from first day in the door absolutely deserves a safe, respectful work environment,” Christiansen said. “We are putting down priorities and working together to make sure that everyone’s understood what that means, and if they don’t subscribe to that goal, there’s probably a better place people can work, a different place.”
Christiansen’s predecessor, Tony Tooke, resigned after about six months on the job when allegations of sexual misconduct came to the surface. In 2016, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing examining issues of harassment within the Forest Service.
Christiansen’s appointment has been cheered by forestry and public lands organizations. In a statement, National Association of State Foresters President Lisa Allen said Christiansen is “a tremendous supporter of state and private forestry and just what the Forest Service needs in a new leader.”
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