Controversial former Forest Service official gets national award

RENO, Nev. - The Wilderness Society has selected former Forest Service supervisor Gloria Flora as its public land manager of the year for taking ''significant risks'' to promote environmental conservation.

''No one has put themselves on the line for public land more than Ms. Flora,'' said Bill Meadows, president of the national, non-profit conservation group founded in 1935.

''In fact, she has risked her career for what she believes is right,'' he said in a statement from Washington.

Flora, former supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, resigned in November to protest what she called an ''anti-federal fervor'' in Nevada.

As head of the largest national forest in the Lower 48 states, she was locked in an ongoing battle with livestock ranchers over grazing rights as well as a dispute over protection of the threatened bull trout.

In her previous Forest Service job in Montana, she clashed with oil and gas industry leaders who wanted to open up the Rocky Mountain front to drilling.

Flora said Forest Service workers in rural Nevada have been shunned in their communities, refused service at restaurants and kicked out of motels just because of who they work for.

She said in an open letter of resignation to her co-workers that she refused to ''participate in this charade of normalcy.''

''It's time to speak up. But speaking up and continuing to work here are not compatible. By speaking out, I cannot provide you, my employees, with a safe working environment,'' she said.

Jay Watson, California-Nevada regional director for The Wilderness Society based in San Francisco, said nominations for the award are solicited from the group's branches throughout the country.

''This time around, there was almost no need for nominations. It was pretty obvious who should receive it,'' Watson said Tuesday.

Flora has been gone from her job since the first of the year, spending some time on a speaking tour in Montana sponsored by the Montana Human Rights Network and Montana Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

But she continues to draw fire from critics in Elko, where local activists are battling the Forest Service over a road they want reconstructed on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest near the Idaho border.

The agency maintains rebuilding the road that washed out in a flood in 1997 would jeopardize survival of the threatened bull trout.

An estimated 4,000 people turned out in Elko for a parade last weekend aimed against the Forest Service and collecting 10,000 shovels symbolic of the effort to reopen the road.

One sign on a pickup truck in the parade said, ''Look Gloria. 10,000 shovels.''

Elko lawyer Grant Gerber said Flora deserves much of the credit for stirring up interest in the fight over the road in Nevada.

''We have the greatest debt to pay to Gloria Flora,'' Gerber told the crowd gathered around the Elko County Courthouse on Saturday.

''I'm going to pass around this bucket and ask everybody to put a penny in it. I'll send the money to her along with a shovel to encourage her to continue her speaking tour around the United States,'' he said.

The Wilderness Society award is to be announced formally at reception Thursday at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, N.M.

It's called the Olaus and Margaret (Mardy) Murie Award, in honor of Olaus Murie, who was the society's president from 1945-62, and his wife. President Clinton presented Mardy Murie with the Medal of Freedom in 1998.

Three others also will be recognized in Albuquerque - Kim Crumbo of the Southwest Forest Alliance and Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, and Phillenore and Bob Howard of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.


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