WASHINGTON - Sen. Chuck Grassley is raising new questions about the National Park Service's commitment to law enforcement in light of recent actions taken against a seasonal ranger at Yellowstone National Park. The Iowa senator said this individual may be the victim of retaliation for taking enforcement action against illegal poachers who put both grizzly bears and humans at risk.
In a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Grassley has asking for an accounting of the park service's actions with regard to Robert Jackson. Last year, park service officials retaliated against Jackson by telling him he would not be rehired and putting a gag order on him to not talk about the poaching problems. After Jackson filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel in Washington, the park service rescinded its action. But this year, Grassley said the retaliation may be continuing as Jackson has not been retained for the hunting season.
Jackson had been on patrol at Yellowstone National Park during the hunting season for the last several years. He is a 30-year veteran of the National Park Service.
"Mr. Jackson has an impressive record with the park service and the kind of experience and know-how needed to deter poaching," Grassley said. "When someone like him speaks up about unethical practices and gets sidelined and shut out, then there are a lot of questions for the National Park Service to answer. Mr. Jackson deserves those answers. I'm intent on stopping this kind of intimidation so other governments workers who are willing to speak up about problems are not deterred."
Grassley has been investigating law enforcement problems at the Interior Department during the last year. He said he hopes to see the secretary make reforms a top priority.
From PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch: "Sen. Grassley's inquiry is a big red flag to Gale Norton -- she has law enforcement problem at Yellowstone, and her staff is retaliating against the few employees willing to speak up about it. PEER is grateful to Sen. Grassley for his support for Bob Jackson, who is is single-handedly responsible for documenting the growing dependence of the bears on elk carcasses left near illegal salt licks.
As the elk hunting season coincides with the period of greatest mortality to the Yellowstone grizzly, it is precisely the wrong time to take experienced rangers out of the backcountry. The Park Service's actions appear to confirm fears that the agency is willing to sacrifice wildlife within its custody to accomodate commercial interests."
A copy of Grassley's letter to Norton follows here:
October 15, 2002
The Honorable Gale A. Norton
Secretary of the Interior
849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Secretary Norton,
I am writing to express my disappointment in the National Park Service for its decision not to reinstate Ranger Robert Jackson in patrol duties in Yellowstone National Park during the hunting season.
Mr. Jackson has worked as a ranger at Yellowstone National Park for 30 years, amassing an impressive reputation and record as an aggressive enforcer of the law with the special knowledge and skills to investigate and deter poaching and other illegal practices.
This year, it is my understanding that Mr. Jackson's supervisors chose not to select him to work through the end of the hunting season, a period he has worked for several years.
As the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee's Crime and Drugs Subcommittee, I am concerned about this decision for several reasons.
First, this appears to be retaliatory action against Mr. Jackson for his previous disclosures and last year's legal settlement, which was to Mr. Jackson's advantage.
The decision is also indicative of the National Park Service's anti-law enforcement culture, which eschews controversy to the point of neglecting security and enforcement.
Last, the National Park Service has shown itself unwilling or unable to justify the decision.
In the last several years, Mr. Jackson has worked in the back-country area of Yellowstone, or the "Thorofare," during hunting season and raised awarenessabout the use of "salts" to attract elks. This practice is not only unethical - and perhaps illegal - but also dangerous, as the dead elk attracted Grizzly Bears, an endangered species. The bears then became more dependent on humans for food, which endangers persons in the park and leads to more bears being shot. Mr. Jackson's reports on Grizzly Bear mortality are well-known.
Mr. Jackson's enforcement efforts against poaching have brought negative publicity to Yellowstone, the Park Service and even the Interior Department as a whole. Last year, his supervisors issued a gag order against him, told him he would not be rehired and took other retaliatory action.
Mr. Jackson through an attorney filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel. Fortunately, National Park Service officials in Washington intervened and settled the case. As part of the settlement, Mr. Jackson's record was expunged of the negative personnel information planted against him, the gag order was lifted and he was promised a position as a ranger this year.
This settlement was viewed by some as an admission by the National Park Service that local officials had gone too far and taken unlawful retaliatory action against Mr. Jackson. Mr. Jackson and his attorney report to my staff that at least one local supervisor has exhibited animosity toward Mr. Jackson since the settlement was announced.
On September 30, I wrote to National Park Service Director Fran Mainella requesting that she consider ordering Mr. Jackson reinstated or, if he is not to be reinstated, that she answer several questions about the decision. I asked that the answers be provided by Friday, October 4. A reply did not arrive until October 7, and it was woefully incomplete.
I can conclude from this only that National Park Service officials are unwilling to provide an explanation for their decisions, or they are unable, meaning it was very likely an arbitrary action.
Cultural Bias Against Security And Enforcement
Getting rid of Mr. Jackson serves the interests of park supervisory officials who wish to avoid high-profile conflicts with poachers and negative media attention. Mr. Jackson has proved himself to have unique skills and knowledge of the back-country area where poaching is known to take place. I understand that he even has developed a reputation among poachers, so that when they know he is on duty, they stay away.
As you know, I have followed with interest your laudable efforts to reform the Interior Department's law enforcement functions. I know this is not an easy task, as an array of entrenched bureaucrats oppose the new emphasis on security, despite the September 11, 2001, attacks and the continuing terrorist risk facing this country.
While Mr. Jackson was not guarding a critical infrastructure, he was carrying out an aggressive law enforcement function against illegal poachers who put both endangered species and other humans at risk. Such efforts should be applauded and enhanced, not diminished and sabotaged.
The National Park Service all but admits that law enforcement is not a priority in its response to me. Director Mainella wrote that seasonal rangers are only assigned to the "frontcountry duties," where there is no hunting, this year, with one exception of a seasonal ranger receiving one week of back-country training.
In addition, Director Mainella wrote that "permanent, GS-9, career law enforcement officers, not seasonal employees," will patrol the back-country this fall. However, she did not provide the number of rangers and whether it is sufficient to enforce the law.
I asked four basic questions (see attachment) of Director Mainella in an attempt to have National Park Service officials account for their actions regarding Mr. Jackson. The answers should have been readily available if the decision not to retain Mr. Jackson was based on objective standards.
The response from the National Park Service did not address those questions directly, except to claim that Mr. Jackson was treated the same as other seasonal rangers.
At this point in the season, it may be too late to reinstate Mr. Jackson, who has already left Yellowstone for his home. However, I would appreciate a pledge from you that Mr. Jackson next year will be able to continue his duties through the hunting season without retaliation or interference.
Also, I ask that you ensure the National Park Service completely answers the questions I posed in my September 30 letter. Also, Director Mainella's response raises new questions. I ask that you answer these or have the National Park Service answer them.
For example, she writes that this fall, only permanent career law enforcement officers, and not seasonal employees, are patrolling the back-country where poaching is known to occur. It is my understanding that this is a new practice. In your reply, please answer whether this is a change in policy or is a different practice from previous years. If it is different as I suspect, please state why the change was made for this fall. Also, please provide the number of permanent career law enforcement officers/rangers patrolling the back-country this fall.
Also, please state the reason why seasonal rangers were only assigned to frontcountry duties (with the one minor exception) and not to back-country duties. Was this due to a funding problem? Was this based on a new policy?
I would appreciate a response to all of these questions by Monday, November18, 2002.
Thank you for your cooperation in my ongoing oversight efforts and in this regard. If you or your staff have any questions, feel free to contact John Drake of my staff at (202) 224-5315.
Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs
cc: The Honorable Fran Mainella
National Park Service