Last Tuesday I entered the Yates Federal Building for the first time as Chief of the Forest Service. It’s going to take some getting used to, being called Chief, when I’ve spent 55 years known simply as Tony. But I am deeply honored and humbled to serve as your Chief. I’m inheriting an incredible legacy from Chief Tom Tidwell and others before him; we can build on it together.
The moment I sat down behind the desk that belonged to Gifford Pinchot, I reflected on the enormity of this responsibility. Then I remembered the passion and commitment of fellow Forest Service employees. I spent many years in the field and will always be grateful for the teaching, mentoring and support of so many. I will rely on that support now.
Within a couple hours of entering the building last Tuesday, I exited it and headed west to California to attend a memorial service for our fallen firefighter Gary Helming. He died in a car accident while returning from fire duty. So my first days as Chief were spent extending my sincerest condolences to his wife Andrea, their three small children, his extended family, coworkers and many friends. Gary was an exceptional employee and public servant who lost his life in an unavoidable tragedy. This sobering moment adds to the gravity of a near record fire season, where we have deployed more than 26,000 personnel to confront severe fire outbreaks. Additionally, millions of people, including Forest Service employees, partners and volunteers in the Southeast, are bracing for Hurricane Irma this weekend, days after Harvey left catastrophic devastation across Texas and the Gulf Coast.
So while there are significant future priorities and opportunities we will focus on together – which include stepping up forest management to restore healthy, resilient forests – we must first recover resiliency in our workforce. This fire season started nearly a year ago in the South and continues in the West, with no season-ending weather event in sight – not to mention our responses to hurricane recovery. My overriding concern is employee safety and welfare, for those who have been deployed and those who remain at home to carry on other work. I know it will take time for us to recover as we continue to sustain forests and grasslands and serve people and communities everywhere.
I offer my support to you as we face many challenges in the coming days. I thank you for the arduous work you have taken on to protect lives, property and natural resources across the country. I support you taking time to rest and recover. I will remain closely connected with you as we confront these disasters; and I will help to set a tone that fosters resiliency, care, respect and appreciation for our dedicated workforce. These will be essential to moving forward to build on our progress –making a difference in sustaining the Nation’s forests and grasslands, while providing services to the American people. Thank for you for all you are doing.
I look forward to working with you and meeting as many of you as I can in the coming months. I will work hard and do my very best as your Chief.