Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The National Park Service is melting down over harassment charges in its 100th anniversary year


Just days after the abrupt retirement announcement last week of Yosemite National Park Supt. Don Neubacher, some of those long familiar with operations at the 1,169-square-mile landmark in Central California were saying the blowup could have been foreseen.

“I warned Don Neubacher about that immediately after he came here six years ago,” said George Whitmore, a longtime Sierra Club activist who said the park has been plagued with a “toxic culture that manifests in internal vendettas and political attacks.”

The scandal at Yosemite is only the latest in a series of revelations about sexual harassment and bullying that have roiled America’s national parks, leading to the resignations of at least four senior national park managers this year and a series of congressional hearings.

What was supposed to be a year of celebration for the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary has turned into a year of accusation, with critics railing that the agency charged with protecting American treasures, from Alaska’s Bering Land Bridge to Buck Island Reef in the Virgin Islands, has failed to protect its own employees from gender bias, bullying and harassment.

The controversy exploded in January, after the inspector general’s office disclosed an investigation prompted in 2014 by a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell from 13 current and former employees — all of them women — saying that their complaints of widespread sexual harassment had not been addressed.

Congressional hearings in June led to the removal of officials at Grand Canyon and Canaveral National Seashore for their failure to appropriately handle such accusations. Then the focus turned to Yosemite.

2016 wasn’t supposed to unfold this way.

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