Q&A with U.S. Forest Service chief Tony Tooke, who sees collaboration as key to improving public lands

Longer fire-fighting seasons gobbling up more of the agency budget is also on his mind

Jason Blevins
The Denver Post
U.S. Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke, right, talks to Mark Bowers, of UpaDowna at the Colorado Convention Center during the Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show on Jan. 25 in Denver.
Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post

Tony Tooke, chief of the U.S. Forest Service since last fall, visited the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show last week, meeting with volunteers, partners and conservation groups as part of a mission to broaden the coalition of organizations, agencies and communities working to improve recreation on public lands. In a brief chat with The Denver Post, Tooke emphasized collaboration and partnerships as essential to meeting the array of challenges facing the National Forest’s wildlands. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

DP: How are you working to support recreation on public lands?

TT:  One of the ideas I have identified is to enhance our recreation opportunities, improve access and sustain our infrastructure. We have challenges in being able to strengthen and enhance those opportunities. We have challenges of being able to maintain access and maintain infrastructure. We are looking at all kinds of ways to address that priority. One way we want to do that is to work in shared stewardship with our many partners, our many volunteers, other federal agencies, states, work with counties, work with communities. We just have a whole diverse range of partners when it comes to outdoor recreation, and we want to work in the spirit of shared stewardship. We want to work collaboratively to make a difference.

DP: For the past several years, ski areas in Colorado operating on Forest Service lands have sent record-setting rent payments to the U.S. Treasury. Some of our busiest forests, like the White River National Forest, which sent more than $20 million in ski area permit fees back to Washington last fiscal year, are seeing budget cuts while visitation soars. Do you support ski area fee retention, which could help forests keep more of the money harvested from resort operators on public land?

TT: We are open to ideas and we are open to solutions and listening to any idea or any proposal. We have a system that allows us to keep recreation fees to address operations and maintenance needs, and we want to put more money back into those busy areas.

Read the full Q&A from The Denver Post online at