WASHINGTON, Aug. 21, 2017 – Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has named Tony Tooke as the next chief of the U.S. Forest Service, succeeding Tom Tidwell, who is retiring effective Sept. 1.
According to a USDA release, Tooke joined the Forest Service in 1980 when he was 18, eventually rising to be the Southern Region’s regional forester.
“Tony has been preparing for this role for his whole professional life, and at a time when we face active and growing fires, his transition into leadership will be seamless,” Perdue said in a statement. In his new role, Perdue added, Tooke will be charged with overseeing efforts to “get our forests working again, to make them more productive, and to create more jobs.
“His focus will be on ensuring we are good neighbors and are managing our forests effectively, efficiently, and responsibly, as well as working with states and local governments to ensure the utmost collaboration,” Perdue said.
As head of the USFS’ Southern Region, Tooke oversees a region stretching across 13 states from Virginia to Florida and Oklahoma to Puerto Rico. He has also spent time working in the agency's D.C. headquarters as the associate deputy chief for the National Forest System. In that capacity, he oversaw six departments at the Forest Service and was the executive lead for Environmental Justice. Tooke also headed up farm bill implementation and other rules and strategies at the Forest Service.
Tooke is a native of Alabama and earned a degree in forestry from Mississippi State University. As USFS chief, he’ll be charged with leading an arm of the government that manages 193 million acres over all 50 states and Puerto Rico with the help of more than 30,000 employees.
Tooke’s predecessor, Tom Tidwell, is retiring after 40 years with the Forest Service. While a statement from USDA contained a good deal of praise from Perdue for his service, his time as chief was not without controversy.
Tidwell led an agency that was under consistent funding pressure due to costs associated with fighting wildfires that often diverted funds away from management activities that could have prevented additional flare-ups. Victims of sexual harassment within Forest Service firefighting crews were also critical of how their complaints were handled, a subject that got attention from the House Oversight Committee in December.
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