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Senator: Park Service must explain

By Matt GourasThe Associated Press
Wednesday October 16, 2002

HELENA, Mont. — A U.S. senator is demanding an explanation from the National Park Service for why it cut short the season of a Yellowstone National Park ranger who earlier was ordered to stop speaking out about unscrupulous hunters. 

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said sending Bob Jackson home early smacks of further retaliation and violates the spirit of a settlement the agency reached with him late last year. 

Jackson, a 30-year park veteran, patrols a remote area of Yellowstone near the park’s southeast corner. His expertise is catching poachers and he has long criticized hunting guides he says illegally lure elk from Yellowstone by placing salt outside park boundaries on Forest Service land in Wyoming. 

In 2001, Jackson, who lives in Promise City Iowa, said park management ordered him not to speak publicly about his concerns and sent him home from his job early, telling him he would not be hired back the next season. 

Jackson filed a complaint and, under an agreement reached in December 2001, was rehired for the 2002 season to patrol the same area of the park. 

However, he said the agency asked him to leave Sept. 17, long before hunting season outside the park heats up. That was extended a couple of weeks, but only after the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility complained to the agency, he said. 

Still, he is being asked to leave much earlier than normal, Jackson contends. 

“This is a thing that is bigger than me,” he said. “It has do with a lot of the status quo with the National Park Service.” 

Rick Frost, a spokesman for the Park Service’s regional office in Denver, said Grassley and Fran Mainella, the agency’s director, had corresponded about Jackson. But Frost said he did not know the extent of the discussions and could not immediately comment. 

In a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who oversees the agency, Grassley said it appears the Park Service is still trying to punish Jackson for speaking out. 

“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,” Grassley said in a statement. “I’m intent on stopping this kind of intimidation so other government workers who are willing to speak up about problems are not deterred.” 

Grassley accused the Park Service of lax enforcement to prevent poaching and of retaliating against Jackson for his outspoken criticism. 

“Getting rid of Mr. Jackson serves the interests of park supervisory officials who wish to avoid high-profile conflicts with poachers and negative attention,” Grassley wrote to Norton. “Mr. Jackson has proved himself to have unique skills and knowledge of the backcountry area where poaching is known to take place.” 

Jackson said the Park Service has purposely staffed the backcountry with a small number of rangers with little experience. 

“The park needed more enforcement coverage, not less like they have now,” Jackson said. “There was no intention there to have fall hunting control.”