Leadership Corner

Vicki Christiansen officially sworn in as 19th Forest Service Chief

October 12th, 2018 at 2:15PM

Patti Hirami portrait photo.
Patti Hirami, acting Deputy Chief for State & Private Forestry

It was a good week at the Forest Service. The National Leadership Council was in Washington, D.C., to work on the shifts we need to make to be today's leaders for the agency. Several of us met with Secretary Perdue at the beginning of the week to talk about leadership and engagement with our stakeholders, partners and communities. The week's highlight occurred when USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue administered the Oath of Office to Vicki Christiansen as she became our 19th Chief of the Forest Service on Thursday, Oct. 11.

Under Secretary Jim Hubbard put it best when he said, “We are here to celebrate leadership with a genuine leader.” In turn, Secretary Perdue talked about a broader vision for the Forest Service. As the Secretary noted, “we want to operate as one—these landscapes belong to us all, and we want to be good stewards and good neighbors.” He added that both Under Secretary Hubbard and Chief Christiansen have experience at the state level, “on the other side of the aisle and know what it’s like to deal with the federal side of the Forest Service.” Diversity of perspective allows us to see things from our partners’ points of view, elevating our service to communities and the American people.

Following his remarks, the Secretary called Chief Christiansen to the podium to administer the oath of office. When he asked if it was about time to remove the word “interim” from her title, the employees and partners in the room responded with resounding affirmation. As our new Chief stepped forward, she received a heartfelt ovation.

Chief Christiansen took the podium and began by thanking the Secretary, Under Secretary and employees for having confidence in her ability to lead this great agency. She went on to share her vision of the agency’s future. Chief Christiansen said, “I expect to make things happen […]. And I expect you all will hold me accountable.”

Chief Christiansen spoke of her career, which includes 30 years in state natural resources, where she worked as a partner. Regardless of the agency, she always felt she was supporting the Forest Service mission. As a career Forest Service employee, I know that we can make a bigger difference by working together across boundaries.

The Chief noted that we face great challenges in conservation as a nation. As she has said before, we have a lot of work to get done and it can’t be business as usual. The Forest Service is a conservation leader and we must redeem that responsibility. We have employees working and living in communities throughout this country, where they are connected to the community. We can only successfully accomplish our mission if we work together across boundaries.

Chief Christiansen also spoke of her first grandchild, and how becoming a grandmother 10 days after she was named Interim Chief gave her a deeper appreciation for the greater meaning behind our mission. For the sake of future generations, we can wisely use our resources and leave this earth in better shape than we found it.

Shared stewardship remains one of our highest priorities. We serve as caretakers for the land, together with our stakeholders; we must balance the wise and productive use of our resources. The Chief reminded us that our resources are not only minerals and timber—they are the “recreation and access [to national forests] that so many citizens love.”

Chief Christiansen also touched on our work environment, saying, “We cannot achieve our mission unless we have a safe and respectful work environment for everyone. That’s what every one of you deserves and what the American people expect as well.”

Chief Christiansen acknowledged the weight of the responsibility she has been given; we have had fewer than 20 Chiefs in our nearly 120-year history. As we broaden our agency’s vision for shared stewardship, she acknowledged that no one leader has all the answers, and voiced her commitment to listening to the wisdom and counsel of the Secretary, Under Secretary and all of her employees. She asked us to join together with others to truly fulfill the spirit of our mission by listening to all voices so we successfully accomplish our work. Chief Christiansen pledged to give our mission everything she has, noting, “Collectively, we have the heart and we have the will to use and love our resources wisely.”

Having worked with or for Vicki over the years, I am thrilled that her gifts and skills are recognized, and will be put to the benefit of the agency and its stakeholders. I know we will all gain tremendously from her leadership.

The Chief said it best: “I see the heart and the soul and service in this agency. Service is in our name […] service to the American people, and service to each other.”

If you missed the live event, I encourage you to watch the video below.


Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen Swear-in Ceremony from Forest Service on Vimeo.