Head of Yosemite resigns amid reports of ‘horrific’ work conditions, harassment

Superintendent Don Neubacher, who is accused of publicly humiliating and intimidating workers, stepped down as California park faces misconduct scandal

The head of Yosemite national park is stepping down in the wake of reports of horrific working conditions and rampant sexual harassment, the latest in a controversy that has brought national shame to one of Americas most beloved landmarks.

Superintendent Don Neubacher, who is accused of publicly humiliating and intimidating workers, said in an email to staff that he regrets leaving but wanted to do whats best for the popular California park that has faced a widening misconduct scandal in recent months.

His unexpected departure comes a week after a tense US congressional hearing that covered revelations that at least 18 employees have come forward with allegations of severe harassment, misconduct and bullying at Yosemite.

The national park service acted to move Don Neubacher from his role as superintendent in order to preserve the integrity of the ongoing investigation into allegations of a hostile work environment, spokesman Andrew Muoz told the Guardian in an email Thursday.

Earlier this week, Neubacher apologized to his staff, writing in an email: It was never my intention, in any way, to offend any employee. But criticisms of the superintendent have continued to mount as the US Department of the Interior has pushed forward with an investigation at Yosemite.

At the recent hearing, officials also discussed complaints of sexual exploitation, intimidation and retaliation at Yellowstone national park, another iconic site in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Additionally, at Grand Canyon national park in Arizona, the interior departments inspector general reported in January that male employees preyed on female colleagues, demanded sex and retaliated against those who refused.

In June, investigators further cited a pattern of harassment at Canaveral national seashore in Florida, where a law enforcement supervisor allegedly made an unwanted sexual advance toward a subordinate. The superintendent there was recently reassigned.

They really have to change the culture. Its not just hiring females and putting them into the work environment, Mary Hinson, a former Yosemite ranger, said in an interview on Thursday.

Mary Hinson worked at Yosemite from 1993 to 2001. Photograph: Courtesy Mary Hinson

Hinson, who worked at Yosemite from 1993 to 2001, said it was difficult for qualified women to get the jobs and promotions they deserved, and that once they held positions, they faced sexism and harassment on a regular basis.

The cards are kind of stacked against you … Then you come into an environment thats male dominated, primarily white males, and thats been the culture since the beginning of the National Park Service.

Female rangers faced frequent comments about their looks and were often unfairly assigned to administrative jobs instead of operational duties, Hinson added.

The fresh allegations suggest there have been few improvements since she left a decade ago.

Last week, Kelly Martin, Yosemites chief of fire and aviation management, told lawmakers that dozens of park workers are being bullied, belittled, disenfranchised and marginalized from their roles as dedicated professionals. She and other colleagues alleged that Neubacher had publicly humiliated workers and questioned their professional credibility.

Andrea Andy Lankford, who worked as a ranger at Yosemite in the 1990s, said in an interview that the news reports indicate that the problem actually seems to have gotten worse.

With the superintendents, a lot of blame does lay on them, she said. They establish that culture and they let it thrive.

Lankford recalled that when she was hired to do a night patrol at Yosemite, a manager told her she was a test case to see if a woman could actually do the job.

It was 1993 … and I thought it was outdated and backwards, said Lankford, 52, who has written a book about her time in the park service.

Andrea Lankford: the problem actually seems to have gotten worse. Photograph: Courtesy of Andrea Lankford

On another occasion, I was told I got my job because I had breasts, she said.

At one point when she was assigned to do a supervisor shift, a male colleague sat in the designated seat to block her from doing the job.

It felt really awkward, embarrassing and humiliating.

There have long been allegations of serious sexual misconduct within the National Park Service, which celebrated its centennial in August.

Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland noted last week that an agency task force was discussing this same issue 16 years ago.

The service said it has set up a hotline for complaints and is improving training.

Neubacher, who is now on leave and will officially retire in November, did not directly address the scandals in his retirement letter but said that after a discussion with a regional director, it was determined that new leadership was needed.

Yosemite is world renowned and deserves special attention, he added.

A spokesman said Neubacher was not available for interviews.

Hinson, 51, noted that Yosemite, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon known as the three crown jewels of the park service have repeatedly failed to appoint women to chief ranger positions.

Things have to change for the National Park Service if in fact their goal is to have their workforce truly represent the people we serve.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/29/yosemite-national-park-sexual-harassment-scandal

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