Washington, DC..For the first time in its history, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has begun compiling records of threats and harassment against employees, according to reports released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), an employee advocacy group. In 1999 the Service documented seven incidents of violence or threats of violence, including assaults and death threats, ranging from Nebraska to Guam but employee surveys suggest many more incidents go unreported.
Unlike other federal resource management agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, FWS in recent years has responded to Freedom of Information Act requests from PEER by saying that it has no records of even a single incident against a staff member serving on any of the more than 500 national wildlife refuges spread across the U.S. PEER has been compiling data on threats against resource agency employees since the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City.
Last December a PEER survey of refuge managers found that 32% of respondents experienced threats or harassment against "members of [their] family or refuge staff" in connection with resource management decisions. Nearly half of those who reported incidents said that they were not "encouraged to report" incidents to FWS.
One case reported by the FWS involved the Guam National Wildlife Refuge, where political disputes over Refuge ownership have become increasingly violent in the past few years. Last October, Refuge Officer Steve Berger received death threats, and was assaulted the next day. Two days after the assault, Berger was chased into his office by an angry mob. Not included in the FWS report was the fact that Refuge Supervisor Rober Dorosa was similarly assaulted by an irate anti-government gang on the eve of the 1999 New Year.
"We hope the decision to track incidents means that the Fish and Wildlife Service is beginning to take attacks on its own employees seriously," stated Eric Wingerter, PEER's national field director, who noted that FWS staff told PEER that the group's repeated Freedom of Information Act requests for the violence data and subsequent publicity sparked the agency to begin keeping records. "Employees tell us that these reported incidents are just the tip of a much larger iceberg."