Pillars of PEER

Among PEER's champions is a select group whose support of PEER has never wavered. These people have been involved with the organization since the very beginning. We call them our "Pillars of PEER"—the foundation the organization rests upon—and we are profoundly grateful for their assistance.

During our 15th anniversary celebration in 2008, we contacted these "Pillars of PEER" and asked them to tell us about themselves. They come from many states and walks of life. Both public employees and private citizens, the group includes land managers, biologists and other scientists, law enforcement professionals, college professors, and at least one neurosurgeon.

Some have turned to PEER for assistance during their own careers; others simply understand the importance of the safety net that PEER provides. Many mentioned things they thought PEER did particularly well. And one person simply declared, "PEER is the most valuable organization I've found in 25 years of educating America's youth about environmental responsibility."

We are honored to have earned their steadfast support. Without such commitment, this critically important work would not be possible.

Pillars of PEER

Loren Amelang, Anonymous, Sally Beer, Peter and Trudy Brussard, Mike Castro-Shrader, Linda Frick, Michael Hamilton, Ira HawkinsBrian Hockett, Alice Howard, Mark R. Jennings, Joe Kelsey, John Levy, Donald Oman, Rowland Orum, Dr. Speed Rogers, Richard Thompson, Jack Trueblood, Jim and Anna Wilkinson, Howard Wilshire, Morton and Martha Wood.

Loren Amelang
Believe it or not, one of the most impressive things PEER has going is the "paperless" program. It doesn't seem like it would be that hard to keep track of a member anniversary, send out a single notice at the right time, and get the renewal right the first time, but lots of organizations fail year after year. Some start sending "renewal" notices months ahead of time, and it seems some just keep them coming year around. An amazing number can't connect a web renewal with an existing membership, so then you get twice the volume of useless paper mail. Thank you for your efficient system!

As for programs, PEER appeals to me because you're in there up close where the actual work gets done (or obstructed). So many environmental action organizations now think running TV and newspaper ads will save the planet. I'd rather support hands-on work like yours, and FSEEE, and the Western Environmental Law Center. And I get really emotional about providing support for individuals who find they need to stand up against the stupid and cruel stuff governments would otherwise succeed in forcing them to do.

Having a sense of humor is a definite plus!

I don't have a lot of time to spend on public action. I've lived off-the-grid for 28 years now, with solar electric and solar thermal and local firewood, and telecommuting via the internet. Environmentalism definitely begins at home around here. But it does take time to be green.

Anonymous (senior federal natural resources manager)
I've worked natural resources policy issues at the HQ of a major federal land management agency for almost 20 years. I've listened to hundreds of those who actually do the day-to-day field work and observed the stellar results of their efforts. From very early on, it's been abundantly clear that these men and women face more than enough 'regular' challenges -- personnel and fiscal shortfalls, competing priorities, the lack of a seat at the decision-making table among them -- that the last thing they need is a lack of understanding of their issues and actions by superiors at all levels in the "chain of command," unthinking and ill-thought-out intrusions by politicians, as well as vindictive or punitive actions by supervisors.

It's also been clear that whistleblower protection laws often provide little or no shelter or comfort, especially in the short-term. Given these sad realities, those who choose to buck the odds in defense of our priceless natural and cultural heritage deserve not only our admiration and respect -- they merit, and often need, the legal and other protections afforded by PEER. I salute those who have had the courage of their convictions to shed their anonymity in the face of almost certain reprisal; the very least I can do is to provide some very modest financial support to a group that emerged to meet an ongoing and increasingly more frequent need.

PEER has been there for several natural resource managers whom I've known, and Jeff Ruch has spoken at a national meeting to more than 150 of our employees. They have expanded their reach and their ability to help resource managers very significantly over the years -- yet it appears that the demand for their services still continues to grow.

I am hopeful that a new Administration will lessen the need for PEER's services. But until that happy day, I am more than happy to continue my support.

Sally Beer
Sally is especially interested in supporting PEER's federal land management employees - those who are on the ground to enforce the law and do the right thing regardless of political opposition from higher levels of government.

Peter Brussard
As a conservation biologist working in the Great Basin, I was attracted to PEER by seeing the incredible influence of the livestock industry over public land managers and scientists. Science was almost always ignored, and those agency people who persisted in trying to change management practices usually were sidelined or exiled to various Siberias. Things may be a little better now, but PEER is still needed.

Michael S. Hamilton
The contribution PEER makes to environmental stewardship is truly priceless. That's why I slipped a reference to the PEER web site into a section on ethics and whistleblowers in my undergraduate textbook, The Dynamics of Law, 4th ed (2008). I use it in a course on Legal Process & the Environment to educate future environmental professionals. I offer four classes on natural resources and environmental policy, in which PEER newsletters are frequently circulated as class handouts.

Had PEER existed during the two years I spent in the U.S. Department of the Interior (1991-93) near the beginning of my career, I might still be working there. But PEER formed just as I fled D.C. for a less vicious workplace. I'm pleased others have found some of the support they need to function in a responsible manner. PEER is the most valuable organization I've found in 25 years of educating America's youth about environmental responsibility.

[Michael S. Hamilton is Professor of Political Science at the University of Southern Maine and founder of the Acid Rain Retirement Fund, a non-profit, all-volunteer community organization dedicated to reducing air and water pollution. Since 1995 A.R.R.F. has removed 1,594,000 pounds--797 tons--of sulfur dioxide emissions allowances from the marketplace. Previously Hamilton served as Program Analyst and Coordinator of International Programs on the Planning and Analysis Staff of the Director, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, U.S. DOI. He is author of Mining Environmental Policy (2005); The Impact of Acid Rain Controls on Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (1992); and Regulatory Federalism, Natural Resources and Environmental Management (1990).]

Brian Hockett
I tried to implement grazing management that would restore degraded riparian and wetland habitats. More often than not this involved reducing stocking rates (fewer cows and/or shorter grazing seasons). As you might guess, such suggestions weren't popular with the grazing lessees and, unfortunately, weren't supported by local BLM managers.

Back in the early months of "Rangeland Reform '94", I felt empowered with new regulations, policies & guidance. Many old school BLM managers, western politicians and public land users didn't share my enthusiasm for change. If not for PEER, my career with the Bureau of Land Management would've ended prematurely.

Now some 15 years later, there's talk of open, transparent government where public land management agencies make decisions based on science, not politics. I'm not as naive as I once was, but I am excited about the prospect of working for the BLM under guidance from the Obama administration - especially when I know that PEER's still got my back.

Alice Q. Howard
Back in 1983, a friend with the Fish and Wildlife Service with great integrity put his job on the line, with the support of his family, to defend fish and birds from selenium poisoning. I suggested to him that he seek support from the Government Accountability Project, which I knew of through membership in Common Cause. At the time, GAP was the only organization I knew of that supported whistleblowers. When PEER formed, I signed on to support PEER, knowing what my friend went through, and have continued to do so ever since, and have also supported GAP as well. Thank God for civil servants with integrity. I hope things improve for them under the new administration, but many have been forced out in the meantime. Challenging whatever administration is in power seems all too often to trigger the circle-the-wagons reflex.

Joseph Kelsey
I appreciate organizations like PEER that are independent of the powers-that-be. PEER does a good job keeping people informed.

John Levy
Thanks to all of you for your fine and courageous work. We need you more than ever.

Donald Oman
I was a district ranger attempting to get ranchers to "do the right thing" as far as grazing rights were concerned. I learned that my management was meeting with the ranchers in an effort to get me removed from my position. Jeff DeBonis filed a whistleblower lawsuit for me and was great to work with. He gave me the courage to stand up to the Forest Supervisor. The outcome: I was totally vindicated and stayed in my position, eventually being promoted to Forest Eco-Systems Staff Officer for my last three years with the Forest Service.

I've seen lots of reversals on the grazing issue and I personally appreciate what PEER is doing. They've really taken on some big issues. I've never seen an administration so bold about serving big business interests.

J. Speed Rogers
Happy 15th anniversary to PEER! I do feel quite honored to be a "Pillar of PEER." I wish I were a retired CEO and could give you piles of money.

A frequent question among nature lovers seems to be "what caused you to be an environmentalist?" In my case, it was my father, a biology professor, and a boyhood growing up in the pine woods and wetlands of North Florida. Also, "collecting trips" in North Carolina, Indiana, and Michigan.

Since retirement, I have been quite active in a number of environmental organizations in the Western North Carolina mountains (but not an undercover agent — don't send any boxers). I know what it's like to reform the Forest Service — and that's one big reason I get such a big kick out of the gutsy work you PEER fellows do!

Many happy returns!

Richard Thompson
We joined PEER to support our ideals. Both my father and my father-in-law worked in the public service (one was the Supervisor of Documents at the Mint, the other a dentist in the Public Health Service) and my wife and I saw that employees who "stood up to be counted" generally paid what we called the wages of bureaucracy.

I worked for the US Public Health Service early in my career. From 1967-69, I served as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer and traveled to exotic locales to investigate outbreaks of infectious disease. After that, I relocated my family to Seattle, where we became avid outdoorsmen (and women). I have made numerous trips to ANWR and have been very active in the fight to keep drilling out of the north shore of Alaska.

I admire PEER's intersection of public service and the environment. Now, I am off to work on the most important election of my lifetime.

Jack Trueblood
I am an information officer retired from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. When PEER came along, a huge two-location bombing range was proposed for the best pronghorn and sage grouse habitat in the state and one of my favorite hunting areas. It was championed by the Governor, a bad thing for state employees. I felt PEER was the kind of organization that would help publicize the issue and political fallout if need be. In the end, the huge range was defeated by a vote of the Fish and Game Commission, thanks in large part to the work of dedicated employees and PEER. I've remained a PEER member since then.

Jim and Anna Wilkinson
I was a member of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics before PEER was formed. Since I worked in the Department of Interior, PEER was a better fit for me. Each newsletter makes me more disappointed with the Obama administration. I thought whistleblower protection would be a slam dunk. I sure was wrong. I don't see the REAL change I voted for. The need for PEER is as great as ever.

Howard Wilshire
Here are a few thoughts on my PEER journey.

Way back in 1989, Valentine's Day, Congressman Tom Lantos held a hearing on federal employees' First Amendment rights at the USGS office in Menlo Park, CA. This was a hearing into the USGS' effort to punish me for visiting an off-road vehicle site in a National Forest--on my own time, that is. The story is a lot longer than this, but PEER-of-the-future appeared on my behalf in the form of Jeff DeBonis who gave testimony at the hearing. So, here was this rag-tag guy with his shirt tails hanging out talking about how to be an activist in a government agency and survive.

This was most appealing, so when Jeff asked me to join the board of a new organization he was helping establish, called PEER, I was ready to go (even though still employed by the USGS and still getting into trouble). Exciting and invigorating events, in particular the PIE Conference, ensued--opportunity to meet a lot of people with similar histories and those, especially GAP attorneys, who worked to help government employees do their jobs.

I was a sore thumb on the Board--the only scientist/government employee among the kind of people PEER really needed in the beginning (maybe now too): people with contacts with money.

This changed dramatically when Jeff D. left PEER and Jeff R. took over. The Board shifted to members drawn from government agencies with whom I could directly relate, all with striking histories of insiders swimming upstream in moribund agencies, or downright malevolent agencies. Getting together and working with these folks is always exciting. Jeff's leadership has been superb and effective. I get a lot of credit that I don't deserve when people find out I am Board Chair. PEER is widely respected (and hated--another sign of respect--by those exposed). I can't imagine how far behind the curve we would be without PEER.

Morton S. and Martha C. Wood
PEER'S work in protecting whistleblowers from retributions and reprisals is of utmost importance. How can we right any of the wrongs in bureaucratic institutions if workers live in fear of losing their jobs and health coverage once they speak out against abuses? It's heartwarming to read about cases in which PEER saved the careers of people who have had the courage to speak truth to power.