Congressional leaders are praising U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's pick of a veteran Western forester to lead the U.S. Forest Service.
Vilsack on June 28 announced that Randy Moore will become the agency's 20th chief after having served as Regional Forester in the Pacific Southwest Region in California since 2007 after Chief Vicki Christiansen steps down from role on July 26.
Moore, 66, has responsibility for 18 national forests, covering one-fifth of the state on 20 million acres of land. Additionally, he oversees state and private forestry programs in Hawaii and the U.S. affiliated Pacific Islands.
Previously, Moore served as the Regional Forester for the Eastern Region headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisc., for five years. He will be the USFS' first Black chief.
"California understands all too well the challenges facing our forests and I'm glad a Californian will head efforts to tackle them," U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told Newsweek.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott and Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee Chair Abigail Spanberger have also issued statements cheering the selection. Scott, D-Ga., also thanked Christiansen for "her dedicated career in public service."
"Mr. Moore brings more than 40 years of valuable experience to this role ... and I hope this critical insight will help strengthen our nation’s wildfire management during a particularly difficult fire season and into the future," said Spanberger, D-Va. "As a former NRCS employee, his selection also provides an opportunity to further bridge the efforts of NRCS with those of the Forest Service as we work together to combat the climate crisis.”
Moore started his career in conservation in 1978 with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in North Dakota. His Forest Service career began on the Pike and San Isabel National Forests in Colorado and the Comanche and Cimarron National Grasslands in Kansas, according to USDA.
He served as Deputy Forest Supervisor on the National Forests of North Carolina and the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri before serving as Forest Supervisor of the Mark Twain National Forest. Moore also has national-level experience in Washington, D.C., serving as acting Associate Deputy Chief for the National Forest System and the National Deputy Soils Program Manager.
Moore earned a bachelor’s degree in plant and soil science from Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He and his wife Antoinette have two sons, a daughter-in-law, and two grandsons.
“In his role as Regional Forester, Randy has been a conservation leader on the forefront of climate change, most notably leading the Region’s response to the dramatic increase in catastrophic wildfires in California over the last decade," Vilsack said. "His proven track record of supporting and developing employees and putting communities at the center of the Forest Service’s work positions him well to lead the agency into the future at this critical time in our country.”
Another fire season
He takes the Forest Service's reins just as the agency is gearing up for another devastating fire season. The West suffered one of the worst wildfire seasons in history in 2020, as more than 100 blazes in August and September burned more than 8 million acres, destroyed 13,887 buildings and killed 46 people, including 32 in California, according to state and federal authorities.
Some critics have faulted a lack of forest management for the severity of the wildfires, which in many cases have been fueled by dense underbrush.
Rep. Glenn Thompson, the House Agriculture Committee's top Republican, believes Moore is the best person to tackle forests' complex challenges.
"The Forest Service will be in very qualified hands with Randy Moore at the helm," Thompson said. "I look forward to working with him in this role on legislative and administrative actions to address our nation’s forest health crisis and restore rural economies. We need bold and innovative solutions to effectively tackle the many issues facing the agency and the communities it serves, and I know Randy is up to the task,
Chief Christensen has done a fantastic job," he said. "I thank her for her years of service and extend my best wishes to her in retirement.”