Interim Forest Service Chief, Vicki Christiansen was the keynote speaker at the Idaho Forest Owners conference, March 26 in Moscow, Idaho.
Ms. Christiansen, who was appointed March 9, following the March 7 resignation of Tony Tooke, said all the things you would expect an incoming Chief to say in her first public outing, but she made no mention of the sexual misconduct difficulties that led to Mr. Tooke’s resignation.
However, we understand that Ms. Christiansen is issuing new conduct guidelines. Meantime, we are conducting our own investigation, and are in touch with Forest Service retirees who are familiar with the situation, and with the PBS News Hour, which broke the Tooke story a few days before he resigned.
Both Ms. Christiansen and Gail Kimbell, the first female Chief of the Forest Service [2007-2009] have acknowledged the discriminatory challenges women face in the agency’s mostly male culture, but both say they were never sexually harassed.
Ms. Christiansen drew strong applause from Idaho forest landowners with her affirmation that President Donald Trump had signed the 2018 Omnibus federal budget, which includes funding to fix the fire borrowing mess that has plagued the Forest Service for most of a decade.
Heretofore, Congress had required the agency to pay its firefighting bills with money borrowed from its other forest management accounts, in effect robbing the Forest Service of its ability to complete forest restoration work aimed at reducing the risk of wildfire.
During a subsequent question and answer session, several landowners voiced concern for the backburning that accompanies the effort to slow large wildfires, plus the difficulties landowner face in obtaining prescribed fire liability coverage. Costs associated with prescribed burns that jump from private lands to adjacent federal lands are the landowner’s responsibility, but the federal government is not held liable for damages that occur when wildfires or backburns jump from federal land to adjacent private land.
Click here to read Ms. Christiansen’s well received speech. We had hoped to interview her while she was in Moscow, but her schedule was too tight, but we will be interviewing her soon.
Speculation is that she stands a 90 percent chance of being confirmed as the 18th Chief of the agency, which was founded in 1905. Among her credentials: she is a former Deputy Chief of the Forest Service’s State and Private forestry division, a former Arizona State Forester and a former Chief Forester with the Washington Department of Natural Resources.