A day after a PBS NewsHour investigation revealed a culture of sexual harassment, assault and retaliation within the U.S. Forest Service, the agency is telling employees that “we acknowledge that we have more work to do.”
In an email to employees responding to the NewsHour’s original report, a spokesman from the office of Chief Tony Tooke said: “The stories the Forest Service employees shared during the PBS NewsHour piece are important to hear, difficult and heart-wrenching as they may be. Stories like these, which have come to light over the past few years, have underscored that there are elements of sexual harassment in the Forest Service that have existed and continue today.”
The message, sent by Dan Jiron, acting deputy undersecretary for natural resources and the environment, continued: “While we have taken significant actions over the past several years to address sexual harassment in the Forest Service, we acknowledge that we have more work to do. These are critical issues that the Forest Service must continue to take on to increase our efforts to protect our fellow employees so they know they can speak up and speak out, without any fear of retaliation or reprisal. We continue to consult with outside experts and focus internal resources to help us better support victims of harassment during investigations. Victims must know that there will be accountability for persons who engage in sexual harassment and reprisal. We are committed to our duty to create a workplace that is respectful, rewarding, and above all, a safe place for all employees. The Forest Service is committed to permanently changing our culture to create the workplace we all deserve.”
The message came as the United States Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service’s parent agency, confirmed it was opening an investigation into Tooke following complaints about sexual misconduct before he became chief.
In an email, Tooke said: “I’m in support of this investigation, and I have fully cooperated from the start. I expect to be held to the same standards as every other Forest Service employee.”
The PBS NewsHour’s Elizabeth Flock and Josh Barajas reported for this story.
Colorado’s two U.S. senators teamed with a colleague from Oregon Tuesday to introduce a bill that would allow national forests to retain a portion of the fees they collect from ski resorts that use federal lands for operations.
The Ski Area Fee Retention Act was introduced by Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, Democrat Michael Bennet and Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden.
The legislation would create a ski area fee retention account under the National Forest System. A portion of the $37 million in annual ski area fees would be retained in that account.
“This would ensure that the Forest Service has adequate resources to administer permits and review capital improvement project proposals in more heavily trafficked forests, such as the White River National Forest — the most visited national forest in the country,” said a statement from the senators.
The Aspen Times reported in December that the 11 ski areas in the White River National Forest paid a record $20.18 million in fees for the federal government’s 2017 fiscal year. That includes fees paid by Aspen Skiing Co. for its four ski areas.
The forest received about $16 million in funds appropriated by Congress last year and it was allowed to keep about $2 million in fees collected from visitors to the Maroon Bells and outfitter fees.
The forest’s budget has plummeted from $30.39 million in 2009 to around $18 million in recent years.
A larger share of the Forest Service’s nationwide budget is devoted to firefighting efforts.
It was unclear Tuesday whether passage of the legislation would increase overall funding for the White River National Forest or if retention of ski fees would be accompanied by a decreased appropriation by Congress for general funding.
In a prepared statement, Gardner said, “It’s important that our skiing communities don’t just send money to Washington and not fully benefit from the government fees they are charged. My bipartisan legislation with Sen. Bennet will make it easier for our skiing communities to make the capital improvements they need to grow and thrive.”
Bennet said, “The Forest Service is an important partner for Colorado’s communities and outdoor recreation industry. Retaining some of the ski area fees in our National Forests will help strengthen that partnership and provide new opportunities for growth in our mountain communities.”
The bill was hailed by representatives of the national and Colorado ski industry trade associations.
“The bill will support the important public-private partnership between the Forest Service and ski areas, facilitate private investment in infrastructure on public lands and ultimately benefit rural economies and the recreating public,” said Geraldine Link, director of public policy for the National Ski Areas Association.
Melanie Mills, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA, said, “Ski areas in Colorado strongly support this proposed legislation, which will provide local Forest Service offices with the resources they so badly need to administer ski area permits and to review and process ski area proposals for improvements.”
Southern Region of the USDA Forest Service waives campground fees on National Forests
ATLANTA (September 7, 2017) -The Southern Region of the USDA Forest Service is immediately waiving fees and making all campgrounds available for individuals displaced by the recent and forthcoming hurricanes, including Hurricane Irma.
Many National Forests were impacted by the recent storms and as a result, some of the region’s campgrounds are closed. National Forest staff are monitoring Hurricane Irma closely and may close additional campgrounds in the predicted path of the storm to ensure the safety of the public and employees.
Please call ahead or check websites to determine what is open and available. Also, individuals requesting campsites need to check in with campground hosts at each site.
About 6.3 billion dead trees are still standing in 11 Western states, up from 5.8 billion five years ago, according to U.S. Forest Service statistics compiled for The Associated Press.
Since 2010, a massive infestation of beetles has been the leading cause of tree mortality in the West and now accounts for about 20 percent of the standing dead trees, the Forest Service said. The rest were killed by drought, disease, fire or other causes.