Randy Moore to Take Over U.S. Forest Service as Intense Wildfire Season Begins

Forester Randy Moore is taking over as chief of the U.S. Forest Service in late July as an intense wildfire season begins in the West.

Moore, 66, will be the first African American to lead the agency of 30,000 employees since its establishment 116 years ago. His leadership will follow the record-high temperatures in the Pacific Northwest where fire crews are on alert in high-risk areas. Moore has worked as a regional forester in charge of 18 national forests in California and Hawaii since 2007.

"California understands all too well the challenges facing our forests and I'm glad a Californian will head efforts to tackle them," said California Senator Dianne Feinstein of Moore's nomination to Forest Service chief.

Moore was appointed to his new position by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who said he is, "a catalyst for change and creativity." Moore is taking over for Vicki Christiansen who currently heads the Forest Service and is retiring July 26.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Forester Randy Moore
US President George W. Bush (L) participates alongside California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (C) and US Forest Service Regional Forester Randy Moore (R) during a briefing on area wildfires at the Northern Operations Command Center Hangar at Redding Municipal Airport in Redding, California, on July 17, 2008. Moore is taking over as the head of the U.S. Forest Service in July. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

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 served as the regional forester in the California-based Pacific Southwest Region.

Christiansen and Moore will collaborate on what is 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.

An extended heat wave has triggered record-breaking temperatures in Oregon and Washington state and cities and counties have imposed burn bans.

Vilsac praised Moore's abilities 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 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,'' Vilsack said in a statement.

Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman, the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, called Moore "a seasoned professional,'' adding: "I sincerely hope we can work together on mitigating catastrophic wildfires, opening up our national forests to sustainable lumber harvesting, making forests more resilient against insects and diseases and much more.''

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

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

Randy Moore
In this July 10, 2015, file photo Randy Moore, of the U.S. Forest Service, listens as President Barack Obama talks about the designation of three new national monuments in the Oval Office of the White House in 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. Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo