Pence: Probe of worker harassment sad but not surprising

RENO, Nev. - Guy Pence knows all too well about intimidation and harassment of U.S. Forest Service workers in Nevada.

As former ranger of the Carson District of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Pence was the target of two bombings six years ago. The attacks left him and his family unhurt, but shaken, and prompted the Forest Service to transfer him to Idaho for their safety.

His own encounters with violence and the findings of a recent Forest Service investigation are a sad testament to the darker side of mankind, he said.

''I've faced hostile verbiage and actions; posturing,'' Pence said. ''There's some of that that goes with the territory. But how far does it go?''

The Forest Service investigation into claims by former Humboldt-Toiyabe Supervisor Gloria Flora that Nevada was hostile territory for federal employees cited dozens of allegations of harassment and intimidation against agency workers.

Flora resigned last year, saying she could not guarantee the safety of her employees.

Though the agency's investigation found no crimes that could be prosecuted, it documented incidents in which federal employees, mostly in northeast Nevada, were denied services at businesses and ostracized by others because of where they worked.

''To refuse to serve someone in a business or to treat harshly their extended family - that's vindictive,'' Pence said. ''Now you're no longer dealing with the issue of natural resources.''

The investigation came as the Forest Service and Elko County locked horns over a remote dirt road and a threatened fish in the isolated hamlet of Jarbidge near the Nevada-Idaho line.

Elko County wants to rebuild the road, which washed out in a 1995 flood.

The county disputes the government's claim of ownership to the road that cuts through a narrow canyon on national forest land. The county contends the road existed before the national forest was designated nearly a century ago.

The Forest Service says rebuilding the road would harm the southernmost population of bull trout, a threatened species that lives in the nearby Jarbidge River.

The dispute escalated last fall, when a citizens group led by Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, planned to reclaim the road with picks and shovels. The work party was blocked by a federal court order.

Both sides are now in court-ordered mediation, though Carpenter and others plan to return to the site July Fourth and repair the road.

As word spread about Elko's defiance of the Forest Service, people across the West donated thousands of shovels as a show of support for the county's stance against federal control of public lands.

While the conflict thrust Nevada into the national spotlight, Pence said the attention will wane as land management controversies erupt elsewhere.

''There is a lot of animosity over natural resource decisions. It's always been a contentious arena,'' Pence said. ''Tribal wars and world wars have been fought over natural resources. It's nothing new.

''Nevada may be a hotbed right now, but any place can have its 15 minutes of fame.''

Pence was at center stage the last time anti-Washington sentiments flared in Nevada.

On March 30, 1995, a small pipe bomb exploded outside the Forest Service building in Carson City. The building was unoccupied but the blast caused heavy damage to Pence's office.

Four months later, on Aug. 4, 1995, someone planted a bomb outside Pence's home.

Pence was away on a horseback trip. His wife, Linda, and one of the couple's three daughters had just left their front living room when the bomb exploded outside about 10 p.m.

The blast rocked the home, destroyed the family's van and sprayed the living room with shrapnel and shards of glass.

No one was hurt.

Forest Service officials, concerned abut the safety of Pence and his family, transferred him to the Boise National Forest in Idaho shortly afterward.

Despite a $30,000 reward, no arrests were made.

Pence said the attacks on him and his family have made him more aware.

''I never used to pay much attention to the bad news in the paper,'' he said. ''Now having been immersed in violence, I see that side of our society. It's kind of a low point.''

As populations around the West grow, so, too, will the complexities of public lands and resource management, Pence said.

''The western United States, we're having a hard time growing up,'' he said.

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