Washington DC -- Yellowstone National Park ordered a 'back country' ranger not to speak to the media about the cause of a growing number of unnecessary grizzly bear shootings, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Bob Jackson, a 30-year seasonal ranger, is raising alarms about grizzly deaths by hunters at the park boundary. According to Jackson, hunter's continuing use of illegal salt licks draw herds of elk out of the park. Sloppy butchering leaves "gut piles" amounting to tens of thousands of pounds of elk meat, an irresistible lure for grizzlies. The resulting encounters with hunters now constitute the single biggest cause of grizzly mortality, accounting for nearly half of all grizzly deaths. Grizzly bears have been on the Endangered Species Act's "threatened" list for nearly a quarter century.
Park officials contacted by reporters admit they are trying to "muzzle Bob Jackson", according to one affidavit. The gag order, dated August 31, reads:
"Bob Jackson is not authorized to speak to the media while on government time. He is not authorized to speak to the media as a representative of Yellowstone National park or the National Park Service at any time.
On his days off and outside the park, he can talk to the media, but is not authorized to express opinions regarding Yellowstone national Park, the National Park Service or about anything he does in his official capacity with the National Park Service. During any media contact, he is not authorized to be in uniform and must make it clear that he is not representing the National Park Service. He is only allowed to give factual information about his position even though he is off duty."
"This gag order is offensive and blatantly illegal," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is providing legal representation for Jackson. "This is not the CIA; there are no national secrets to safeguard. The Park Service should be encouraging its employees to speak honestly about threats to wildlife, not squelch their voices."
Citing laws against the use of federal funds for imposing broad 'gag' or non-disclosure orders on civil servants, PEER has asked National Park Service Director Fran Mainella to investigate the matter, identify the responsible officials and administer appropriate discipline.
A copy of the PEER complaint about the gag order or related documents are available upon request.