Washington, DC – The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has removed a highly-respected range management veteran who repeatedly reported illegal grazing in the Ely, Nevada, area. In a challenge filed today, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) charges that this discharge was illegal retaliation in violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act.
During 2018, Craig Hoover, a 21-year BLM veteran, reported numerous violations, including grazing trespass in areas outside of permits and in excess of permit limits, and stolen fencing materials. BLM’s Ely Field Office took no enforcement action but instead fired Mr. Hoover.
BLM relied upon two seemingly pretextual reasons as the basis for termination: a four-hour delay in Mr. Hoover’s locating one permittee’s permit paperwork and misplacing his own ID badge for about five minutes inside the Field Office’s breakroom. On his behalf, PEER is petitioning the federal Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) to reinstate Mr. Hoover.
“In our more than 25-year history, we have never seen a termination based on flimsier grounds,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins, noting that Mr. Hoover had a solid performance record. “It buggers the mind that BLM’s stated rationale was the real reason for this extreme action, strongly suggesting that it is a clumsy official effort to silence a squeaky wheel.”
According to documents obtained by PEER it appears that BLM has simply stopped enforcement against illegal grazing, not just in Nevada but across the West. Under President Trump, BLM employees have also been encouraged to wear “Vision Cards” depicting overgrazed rangeland.
These incidents also spring from the same region as the infamous Bundy family stand-off over longstanding grazing trespass in 2014. The upshot inside BLM of the years-long Bundy experience has been increased professional pressure not to inflame ranchers--and physical fear, as well. A 2017 PEER survey of Western BLM staff revealed that 70% of BLM respondents feel the Bundy episodes have made their jobs “more dangerous” with large percentages citing “threats to our safety due to resource management issues.”
“As Mr. Hoover’s case illustrates, in today’s BLM, range staff trying to do their jobs must cast a profile in courage,” Jenkins added. “As a consequence, America’s rangelands are deliberately left unprotected by the public agency charged with their stewardship.”
Before the MSPB, the agency bears the burden of showing both that the charges have merit and that the penalty is appropriate. MSPB can order reinstatement and back pay with interest. In addition, if BLM managers are found to have violated the Whistleblower Protection Act, MSPB can direct that the responsible officials be subjected to discipline, including removal.