Washington, DC — An investigation commissioned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service confirmed a severe pattern of intimidation and abuse of its employees during its recently terminated joint operation of the National Bison Range Complex with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Incidents detailed in the investigation include vulgar remarks to female employees, “physically threatening behavior,” and promises to “run these f—ers (FWS employees) out of here.”
The investigation was conducted by Jim Reilly, the retired Special Agent-in-Charge of the National Park Service law enforcement program for the Rocky Mountain region. Reilly told FWS management that “conditions [at National Bison Range] are as bad as he has ever seen during his career” and that his 40-page investigation report only “‘scratch the surface’ of the conditions that [FWS] employees are enduring on a daily basis.” He also cited growing safety concerns for both staff and visitors.
In a memo dated December 6, 2006, FWS Regional Director Mitch King concluded that “involvement in the violations by CSKT management” “make it almost impossible” to resolve. CSKT refused to cooperate with the investigation and forbade any of its employees from being interviewed. King recommended immediate cessation of the nearly two-year funding agreement; an action FWS took on December 11th. Later that month, however, the Interior Department announced that it planned to negotiate a new agreement with the CSKT but did not spell out how it would address the abuse of its employees.
FWS perceives the situation as so intractable that FWS Deputy Regional Director Jay Slack suggested “divestiture of the refuge lands and property to CSKT” as an alternative if the funding agreement with CSKT was not cancelled.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service did the right thing by canceling this agreement, but political pull by the tribes has put the same menu back on the table, without the slightest hint that things will be any different,” stated Grady Hocutt, a former long-time refuge manager who directs the PEER refuge program. “If the tribes will not admit that there is a problem, how is it possible for the problem to be fixed?”
Fearful employees at National Bison Range are already seeking transfers to other wildlife refuges. In addition, the Interior Department has not officially informed them of either the outcome or the proposed resolution of the grievance that the employees filed back in September. In the coming weeks, Interior officials will resume negotiations with the CSKT but the affected employees will not be a party to those discussions.
“Refuge employees should not be subjected to another day of abuse,” Hocutt added. “The Interior officials who overruled their own Fish & Wildlife Service need to provide some mutually acceptable assurances to these public servants that they will not be run through the gauntlet again.”