The new Forest Service chief, Tony Tooke, was sworn in by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Sept. 1. But he’d hardly settled into his new D.C. office when he flew to Oregon to see the damage caused by the Eagle Creek Fire, which is burning through the Columbia River Gorge.
Tooke’s visit may indicate that the Alabama native will prioritize understanding the region’s forests and the problems they face. Tooke, who has worked for the U.S. Forest Service since he was 18, has held various positions based in the Southeast and Washington, D.C. and was most recently regional forester for the agency’s Southern Region. Typically, a Forest Service chief will have worked in the West at some point; the last three before Tooke all came from the agency’s regional office in Missoula. “If I were him, I’d be on airplanes nonstop,” visiting and learning about the forests of the West, says Char Miller, W.M. Keck professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College in California.
With the West experiencing one of its most severe wildfire seasons ever, having a Forest Service chief who’s deeply familiar with the effects of insect infestations, fire suppression, climate change and drought is particularly critical. National forest lands on Tooke’s home turf in the Southeast are generally more heavily managed than those in the West; there’s a greater emphasis on timber production, and prescribed burns are more widely practiced there than anywhere else in the country. “It’s hard to tell how he will translate what he knows about that Eastern fire environment into the…
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