Outspoken Yellowstone Ranger Loses Job
Saturday 12 April 2003
CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- An outspoken Yellowstone National Park ranger who criticized unscrupulous hunters was not rehired this year for the first time in more than 30 years and a government watchdog group wants an investigation.
Park spokeswoman Cheryl Matthews said budget problems prompted officials to cut back its number of seasonal rangers this year.
But Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which defends government employees who speak out on environmental issues, contends Bob Jackson wasn't rehired because of clashes with the National Park Service.
"Something stinks in that park,'' PEER general counsel Dan Meyer said Friday. "There's something odd going on. Somewhere in Wyoming political circles somebody has decided Bob Jackson is a liability that's got to go.''
Jackson, the park's longest-serving seasonal ranger, was ordered by the Park Service in 2001 not to speak to the press after criticizing hunting guides who he claimed illegally lure elk from the park by placing salt licks just outside Yellowstone boundaries.
Elk hunting, which is illegal in Yellowstone, is permitted in bordering national forests, but the use of salt to bait game is not.
Park officials told Jackson in 2001 to return home to Promise City, Iowa, weeks ahead of schedule and said he wouldn't have a job in 2002. But PEER filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and the Park Service was ordered to rehire Jackson and remove the gag order.
Jackson said he feels that history is coming back to haunt him this year.
"I wasn't surprised,'' he said. "I figured from what had happened before that they would try to get rid of me.''
Officials hired a full-time backcountry supervisor to replace Jackson, who patrolled the remote Thorofare area near the park's southeast corner.
Matthews said she would not comment on personnel matters, but added that Jackson could still be rehired to work in other areas of the park.
She said the park considers a number of factors when hiring park employees. "It's not necessarily seniority.''
In a complaint filed Thursday, PEER asked the Office of Special Counsel to again order the Park Service to rehire Jackson in what would be his final year as a seasonal ranger. Jackson, 55, had planned to retire in 2004.
"I want Bob back in the park in Thorofare busting the chops of outfitters who are illegally using public property,'' Meyer said. "That's what all this is about.''
In a letter to NPS Director Fran Mainella, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, also asked for an explanation. He wrote that the Park Service and Jackson's supervisors had "exhibited a clear pattern of retaliation and hostility'' toward his constituent.
Jackson said his personnel files are impeccable and that he's caught more poachers since the 1970s than the Park Service had in the 40 years prior to that. He also said he was concerned about the message his ouster might send to other employees but he did not regret speaking out.
"I have a clear conscience about what I have brought up and shown to the public as to what's happening back there,'' Jackson said.
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