- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 16, 2002

A senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee wants to know whether a seasonal ranger at Yellowstone National Park was targeted for retaliation because of enforcement actions he took against poachers who put grizzly bears and park visitors at risk.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, demanded in a letter to Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton that she account for the park service's actions involving Robert Jackson, who was told he would not be rehired and was subjected to a gag order on talking about poaching problems at Yellowstone. Mr. Jackson is a seasonal ranger who has worked for the park service for more than 30 years.
Mr. Grassley said after Mr. Jackson filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel in Washington, the park service rescinded its action but he has not been retained for the coming hunting season.
"Mr. Jackson has an impressive record with the park service and the kind of experience and know-how needed to deter poaching," Mr. 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 government workers who are willing to speak up about problems are not deterred," he said.
National Park Service officials yesterday referred questions concerning Mr. Jackson to the Interior Department, which oversees the agency. Officials at Interior's Washington headquarters said they had not seen the letter but it would be reviewed and an appropriate response would be prepared. They also said Mr. Jackson, as a seasonal employee, was released earlier this year at the end of his term.
Mr. Grassley, who has been investigating law enforcement problems at the Interior Department for the past year, said he was hopeful Mrs. Norton would make reforms a top priority. In his letter, he said the decision not to rehire Mr. Jackson "appears to be retaliatory action" for his previous disclosures on poaching in Yellowstone.
He said the decision also was indicative of the park service's "anti-law-enforcement culture, which eschews controversy to the point of neglecting security and enforcement."
He also said the park service had shown itself "unwilling or unable" to justify the decision in the Jackson case.
"In the last several years, Mr. Jackson has worked in the back-country area of Yellowstone during hunting season and raised awareness about 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," he said.
"The bears then became more dependent on humans for food, which endangers persons in the park and leads to more bears being shot," Mr. Grassley said. "Mr. Jackson's reports on grizzly bear mortality are well-known."
Mr. Grassley said Mr. Jackson's supervisors earlier this year issued a gag order, told him he would not be rehired and took other retaliatory action. Mr. Grassley said the veteran ranger filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel and the case eventually was settled.
As part of the settlement, he said, Mr. Jackson's record was expunged of the negative personnel information against him, the gag order was lifted and he was promised he would be rehired.
"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. Grassley said. "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."
Mr. Grassley said "getting rid" of Mr. Jackson served the interests of park supervisory officials who want to avoid high-profile conflicts with poachers and negative media attention.


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