The chief of the country's forestry agency has stepped down amid an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed to ABC News in a statement on Wednesday night.
A PBS News investigation first reported allegations against Chief Tony Tooke related to relationships with subordinates prior to when he assumed his current role. The U.S. Forest Service confirmed last week that an independent investigator was looking into concerns about Tooke's behavior.
In a memo to employees Tooke acknowledged the investigation and said he has been cooperating but that he decided to resign to do what is best for the agency.
"I have been forthright during the review, but I cannot combat every inaccuracy that is reported in the news media. What I can control, however, are decisions I make today and the choice of a path for the future that is best for our employees, the Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture," he wrote in the memo. "I must also think about what is best for my family. Therefore, I have decided that what is needed right now is for me to step down as Forest Service Chief and make way for a new leader that can ensure future success for all employees and the agency."
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue confirmed that he accepted Tooke's resignation.
“Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke today tendered his resignation, which I accepted," Perdue said in a statement. "The Forest Service is filled with dedicated employees from across this nation who devote their lives to promoting healthy and productive forests for the benefit of taxpayers and our environment. In my experience, in order to effectively lead any organization, you must have the moral authority to inspire its members to work toward the goal of continuous improvement. Chief Tooke has determined that it is best for the Forest Service, its future, and its employees that he step aside. I thank him for his decades of service to this nation and to the conservation of its natural resources.”
The Forest Service is an agency within the USDA that fights wildfires and manages federal land. The agency had more than 35,500 employees as of September 2017, according to a federal database.
The agency has a history of problems related to sexual harassment and misconduct allegations. The House Oversight Committee held a hearing on the issue after a Huffington Post Highline report was published in 2016 and multiple class-action lawsuits have been filed against the agency over the years.
Tooke said in his memo that the agency has taken steps to improve policies and accountability, including appointing a senior advisor and employee advisory group to focus on work environment.
"We are in a moment at the Forest Service when we have a tremendous opportunity to mold a bright and successful future in delivering our mission," he wrote in the memo. "To seize this moment, however, the right leadership must be in place to create an atmosphere in which employees can perform their very best work. Each employee deserves a leader who can maintain the proper moral authority to steer the Forest Service along this important and challenging course."
Tooke was appointed as Forest Service chief by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on August 21, 2017. He previously worked at the Forest Service since he was 18, specifically as associate deputy chief for the National Forest System before he was appointed as chief, according to the Forest Service website.