Whistleblowers get the axe 

From Oregon to New York, state and federal officials are being laid off or placed on leave. While much of the downsizing can be blamed on the Bush administration’s privatization push, some of these firings are politically motivated, says Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) national field director Eric Wingerter.

“Unfortunately this is becoming more and more common and it seems like these days everything is political,” Wingerter says.

Yellowstone National Park seasonal ranger Bob Jackson won’t be returning this season to the park he’s patrolled for the last 30 years. Jackson was Yellowstone’s longest-serving seasonal ranger, but he was also a whistleblower with a bullhorn. Jackson is famous for publicly claiming in the late-’90s that commercial hunting outfitters were placing salt licks just outside the park to entice elk in an effort to satisfy their clients with big trophies. Jackson attributed increased grizzly bear deaths to encounters between hunters and bears that had been attracted by elk carcasses left by the outfitters. The park ordered Jackson to remain silent about the issue and then asked him to leave work early in 2001 and again in 2002.

“It was a retaliatory action,” says Jackson. “Once the issue became more than just a local issue I think that some people felt really threatened by [my speaking out].”

But the park maintains that its decision not to rehire Jackson had nothing to do with his public criticism.

“That decision has nothing to do with retaliatory action,” says Park Service spokesperson Cheryl Matthews. “The decision was made to put a permanent ranger at Thorofare [the area Jackson patrolled] this year because it’s such a busy, high-profile area.”

Wyoming Game and Fish wildlife biologist Dave Moody, on the other hand, may have been temporarily taken off the state’s wolf management plan as a retaliatory action. Moody, a 28-year veteran of Game and Fish, is working on developing Wyoming’s wolf management plan, but ruffled the feathers of more than a few state lawmakers, including Gov. Dave Freudenthal and Attorney General Pat Crank, when he criticized the plan at an April 9 conference for classifying wolves as trophy game. Such a classification permits unregulated killing of the animals if they wander outside of Yellowstone or Grand Teton national parks.

According to PEER, Moody was suspended without pay for his criticism. However, the governor’s office reports that Moody was only placed on administrative leave and lost no pay. Wyoming Game and Fish has refused to comment on Moody’s leave. Moody returned to work on April 21, but has been directed by his superiors not to speak about his situation.

“What we are seeing in Moody’s case is that there was this predetermined outcome and they expected the science to match their political strategy,” says Wingerter. “It’s really scary and destructive to the process when the people at the top of the political chain…are making decisions on behalf of the scientists. If the attorney general of Wyoming wants to make scientific decisions he can quit his job and go back to school and study biology.”

PEER is monitoring both Jackson’s and Moody’s situation. The organization has filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel in an attempt to force Jackson back on the job, and has filed a complaint with the National Park Service to remove the gag order. PEER didn’t take action on Moody’s behalf, but has extended an offer to help. It’s unclear what PEER’s involvement might be now that Moody has returned to work.

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