Embattled forest supervisor to speak under Human Rights Network sponsorship

KALISPELL, Mont. - Gloria Flora, who resigned as supervisor of a national forest in Nevada citing an atmosphere of ''hostility and distrust'' toward federal employees, plans talks in Montana on her experience, under the auspice of the Montana Human Rights Network.

Ken Toole, program director for the organization, said the network takes no position on land management issues, only the manner in which debates over those issues are carried out.

''We are very much concerned about when politics get so impassioned that people think it's OK to resort to threats and intimidation,'' he said. Talks are planned in Kalispell, Hamilton and Helena.

Flora became supervisor in July 1998 of the Humboldt-Toiyabe, the largest national forest in the Lower 48 states. She previously was supervisor of the 1.8 million-acre Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana.

She became embroiled in a heated controversy in Elko County over the protection of the threatened bull trout and the county's desire to rebuild a road within the national forest near Jarbidge, Nev., along the Idaho border.

Forest Service scientists say reconstruction of the road wiped out in a flood in 1995 could push the last surviving population of the fish in Nevada past the brink of extinction.

The decision angered some locals because the road provided access to popular recreation areas on the forest.

Some state and local officials called it federal tyranny, and threatened to rebuild the road themselves before they were blocked by a federal court.

Toole said the Human Rights Network has seen a similar escalation of debate in school issues and with land use planning. With ''wise use'' groups warning people that they will lose their jobs and their communities because of federal forest policies, there is potential for it to happen again, Toole said.

''The controversy needs to happen,'' he said. ''The public debate is necessary. It's healthy. But when people step over that line, we need to call it out.''

It's also unacceptable when people are shouted at when they are trying to speak in a democratic forum, Toole said.

''A lot of those people won't speak again,'' he said. ''If we behave in a way where we are chasing our opponents out of the political arena by making them feel unsafe, then we have a problem.''

In a letter to her employees, Flora said that the attitudes toward federal employees and federal laws in Nevada are ''pitiful.''

''I could go on and on with examples of those of you who have been castigated in public, shunned in your communities, refused service in restaurants and kicked out of motels, just because of who you work for,'' she wrote.

''It disturbs me to think that 2 million people in this state watch silently, or worse, in amusement, as a small percent of their number break laws and trounce the rights of others with impunity.''


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