IMHYS Editorial Comment: ” As the Federal Govenrments cash cows for the Enviormental NGO’s dries up, they are trying anyway they can to get even with the federal government.”
Scott Streater, E&E News reporter
A career Bureau of Land Management official who was fired last month says the Trump administration is refusing to enforce federal laws and regulations governing livestock grazing in Nevada out of fear of sparking another armed standoff like the one five years ago involving rancher Cliven Bundy.
Craig Hoover, a 21-year BLM employee working in the bureau’s Ely District Office, is appealing the April 29 decision to fire him, claiming it was retaliation for reporting that some ranchers in Nevada are illegally grazing livestock to the detriment of federal rangelands.
Hoover’s appeal alleges a widespread effort under the Trump administration to appease ranchers in the Silver State, which was home to the infamous 2014 standoff led by Bundy and armed militia members who drove away federal agents attempting to remove Bundy’s illegally grazing cattle.
The result, according to a redacted version of the appeal filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board, is widespread abuse by ranchers — including instances of grazing on federal lands without permits — and a refusal by BLM to punish rule breakers.
Instead, Hoover alleges that BLM’s decision to fire him was “improper retaliation” for an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint he filed last year and for “disclosing illegal grazing and other activities by one of its permittees, who was able to exert improper pressure on the BLM to remove me,” according to the appeal.
Hoover, who is being represented in the appeal by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), said that in spring 2018, he reported to his superiors at BLM that one rancher “had stolen BLM fencing material.”
In another instance, in June of last year, “I disclosed cattle trespass by the permittee, but the BLM refused to enforce against him.” This was repeated several months later, when Hoover wrote that he “disclosed” to his superiors “that the permittee was being allowed to graze his animals outside of the permit season” and that “others were doing so without valid permits.”
Once again, the appeal states that “BLM refused” to take action against the ranchers.
In a separate instance stretching from late 2017 through early this year, Hoover wrote that he “observed the permittee was improperly grazing sheep when his permit only covered cattle.” When Hoover reported this, he wrote in the appeal, BLM declined to take action.
“These disclosures involved a violation of laws, rules, or regulations, as well as gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, and abuse of authority,” the appeal says.
“Further discovery of BLM’s actions is likely to reveal additional prohibited personnel practices,” it adds.
Hoover, a rangeland management specialist, signed the formal appeal Thursday. In it, he requests a hearing before an administrative law judge.
An Interior Department spokeswoman said the agency cannot comment on personnel matters.
PEER says if the Merit Systems Protection Board determines that BLM violated the Whistleblower Protection Act and that Hoover was fired for reporting the illegal activity, the board can recommend discipline against individual bureau officials.
Hoover’s appeal says BLM cited two formal reasons for his dismissal: a delay by Hoover to locate “one permittee’s permit” information and the loss by Hoover of his employee identification badge “inside the Field Office’s breakroom” for about five minutes.
The appeal states that both incidents are “substantially inaccurate,” although it does not explain what is alleged to be inaccurate. But even if true, the two reasons “fall far short” of justifying Hoover’s termination, it says.
“In our more than 25-year history, we have never seen a termination based on flimsier grounds,” Peter Jenkins, PEER’s senior counsel, said in a statement.
Jenkins said 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,” he said.