Forest supervisor laments ”anti-federal fervor” in Nevada
RENO, Nev. – A Forest Service supervisor who resigned in protest of an ”anti-federal fervor” in Nevada says public land managers in the state fear for their safety and conservation advocates are afraid to speak out.
Gloria Flora, in charge of the largest national forest in the Lower 48 states, said Forest Service workers in rural Nevada are shunned in their communities, refused service at restaurants and kicked out of motels just because of who they work for.
She said in a letter obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday that officials at all levels of government in Nevada fuel the sentiments by participating in ”irresponsible fed-bashing.”
She said a congressional hearing scheduled in Nevada this weekend by Reps. Helen Chenoweth-Hage, R-Idaho, and Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., about protection of a threatened fish and a controversial road on the national forest amounts to a ”public inquisition.”
”When a member of the United States Congress joins forces with them, using the power of the office to stage a public inquisition of federal employees followed by a political fundraiser, I must protest,” Flora said.
”I refuse to participate in this charade of normalcy,” she said in the letter announcing her resignation Monday to members of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
”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.”
Chenoweth, who chairs the House Resources subcommittee on forests and forest health, and Gibbons plan the fund-raiser following the hearing Saturday at the Elko convention center.
Gibbons declined to respond directly to the criticism. He said he hearing is designed ”to give Nevadans an opportunity to tell a congressional subcommittee their thoughts on an important issue that affects their lives.
”I have a deep responsibility to ensure that my constituents’ concerns are heard,” Gibbons said.
Flora’s resignation marks the boiling point of a heated controversy pitting federal land managers against private property activists in Nevada.
Since she became supervisor in July 1998, she has been embroiled in a controversy over a remote section of northeast Nevada where Elko County wants to rebuild a road on the national forest that the agency says would harm the threatened bull trout.
State Assemblyman John Carpenter, one of the leaders of a citizen revolt aimed at reconstructing the road in defiance of Forest Service orders, said he is glad to see her go.
”She don’t own the forests. I think she felt that she did,” Carpenter said Tuesday.
”I think she was in tune with the Clintonites who want to lock up the forests, but she is not in tune with us people in rural Nevada,” the Republican legislator said.
A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the volunteers from rebuilding the road as planned on Oct. 9 after Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., and Nevada Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa expressed concern a confrontation could turn violent.
Flora said in a strongly worded statement issued by Forest Service regional headquarters in Utah on Monday that she was stepping down because of an atmosphere of ”hostility and distrust” toward federal employees.
In a harsher letter to her employees, she took aim at anti-government zealots and politicians who promote their activities.
”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, kicked out of motels … just because of who you work for,” Flora said.
Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck is reviewing her concerns, said Chris Wood, his senior policy adviser.
”There is already a climate of distrust there and some others are exacerbating the situation and making the climate more hostile,” Wood said.
”We are going to be talking to people and if there is any sense that our employees’ safety is in danger, we are not going to hesitate to respond,” he said. He declined to say what the response options would be.
Flora has worked for the Forest Service in Montana, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.
But ”it is not like this in other places,” she said told the Nevada workers. ”Things may get heated, but all people have a voice. …
”The attitude towards federal employees and federal laws in Nevada is pitiful. People in rural communities who do respect the and accept responsibility for complying with it are often rebuked or ridiculed.
”They are compared to collaborators with the Vichy government in Nazi-controlled France,” Flora said.
”People who support the federal government or conservation of natural resources ask that they not be identified for fear of retaliations. …
”When I speak against the half-truths of the Sagebrush Rebellion, I am labeled a liar and personally vilified in an attempt to silence me,” Flora said about the rebellion by ranchers and miners during the 1970s aimed at resting control of public lands in Nevada from the federal government.
”When I express concerns for Forest Service employees’ safety, I am accused of inciting violence,” she said.
Worse, Flora said, are the elected officials who ”actively support these offenders.”