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Randy Moore named first African American leader of U.S. Forest Service

He faces an immediate challenge — a severe wildfire season in the West, where an epic drought, complicated by climate change, has strained firefighting resources.

Randy Moore has been named chief of the U.S. Forest Service, the first African American to lead the agency in its 116-year history.
Randy Moore has been named chief of the U.S. Forest Service, the first African American to lead the agency in its 116-year history.
Jacquelyn Martin / AP

WASHINGTON — Veteran forester Randy Moore has been named chief of the U.S. Forest Service, the first African American to lead the agency in its 116-year history.

Moore, 66, replaces Vicki Christiansen, who has led the agency since 2018.

The Forest Service, a division of the Agriculture Department, oversees 193 million acres of public lands in 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands.

Moore has been a regional forester for the California-based Pacific Southwest Region since 2007, with responsibility for 18 national forests in California and Hawaii.

He will take over from Christiansen as head of the 30,000-employee agency when she retires July 26.

They’ll be working together on what’s already shaping up as a severe wildfire season in the West, where an epic drought, complicated by climate change, has made putting out fires more challenging and strained firefighting resources throughout the region.

In the Pacific Northwest, where an extended heat wave has triggered record-breaking temperatures in Oregon and Washington state, fire crews have been positioned in high-risk areas, and cities and counties have imposed burn bans.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who appointed Moore, called him “a catalyst for change and creativity” in carrying out the Forest Service’s mission to sustain the nation’s forests.

As a regional forester, Moore has been on the forefront of dealing with the effects of climate change, notably leading the region’s response to the dramatic increase in catastrophic wildfires in California over the past decade, Vilsack said.

Before heading the Pacific Southwest region, Moore was regional forester in the Milwaukee-based Eastern Region, where he oversaw forests in 20 states, including Illinois.

He sttarted his federal career in 1978 at the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in North Dakota and has worked at national forests in Colorado, North Carolina and Missouri, a national grassland in Kansas and as an administrator in Washington.

Moore’s appointment comes as Congress and the Biden administration push to increase firefighter pay and convert at least 1,000 seasonal wildland firefighters to year-round workers as fires have grown more severe. President Joe Biden has called for an increase in pay for federal firefighters, who start out making as little as $13 an hour.

“That’s a ridiculously low salary to pay federal firefighters,” Biden said. “That’s going to end in my administration.″