National Park Service survey finds widespread harassment

After survey finds 1 in 10 employees report sexual harassment, agency promises action.

 

Nearly 40 percent of National Park Service employees experienced some form of harassment over a 12-month period, according to long-awaited survey results released by the agency.

The survey assessed sexual harassment, hostile work environment and gender discrimination in the nation’s parks, monuments and recreation areas. About 19 percent of respondents reported gender-based harassment; 10 percent said they encountered sexual harassment; and .95 percent said they experienced sexual assault. Some employees reported harassment based on their race, age or disability as well. About 50 percent of the Park Service’s permanent employees responded to the survey; a second survey, aimed at seasonal employees, is still in the works.

On Oct. 13, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, Park Service acting director Mike Reynolds and Grand Canyon National Park superintendent Christine Lehnertz discussed the results with Park Service employees in Grand Canyon National Park. In January 2016, the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General found systemic sexual harassment among employees working in the River District of the park. A NewTowncarShare News investigation showed that widespread sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination were occurring in parks across the nation, including Yosemite and Yellowstone.

“The survey makes it clear that NPS has a significant problem with harassment; it has infiltrated our organization and needs to stop now,” Reynolds said in a meeting with employees. “To all of the employees here in the canyon and in the field affected by harassment, on behalf of the leadership of NPS, I want to apologize and commit to you with everything available that we will better support you.”

Employees have said for months that the Park Service has been slow to take action in response to multiple Inspector General reports in 2016 that found systemic sexual harassment and gender discrimination in parks across the country. Reynolds said the Park Service has created a new reference manual for employees, started to revamped its training programs with the help of outside teams of academics and social scientists, and modeled some of its response after the military’s sexual assault program. He also said the agency plans to add more employee resource groups, as well as hold trainings to help bystanders intervene and to “facilitate difficult conversations.”

Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks with park rangers in Glacier National Park in March.

One of the biggest hurdles to addressing harassment is bottlenecks in the reporting system. Many agency employees told HCN that they hit a wall when asking for help: supervisors and superintendents sometimes refused to intervene, or Equal Employment Opportunity and employee relations offices ignored requests.

Reynolds said that within 90 days, he planned to add more employee relations and ethics staff, as well as grow the two-person ombuds team, which fields employee complaints. Employees were also encouraged to speak to any manager they can find rather than going up their chain of command. “If you don’t get any action from your supervisor, then find another supervisor, and if you don’t get any action from them, then come to me and I’ll be here,” Zinke said. 

The other main concern from employees was how the agency has failed for decades to hold alleged harassers accountable, instead transferring them to other parks or promoting them. Lehnertz said in a press conference call that she has taken steps to improve the termination process and added that she will “find some way” to make sure those employees leave the agency. In the last 18 months, she said seven Grand Canyon employees either retired or resigned when faced with disciplinary action, and two employees were fired. Zinke said that he has recently fired four employees over issues regarding abuse of power or intimidation.

Zinke said that he planned to ask Congress to revise rules so that park superintendents and other agency leaders have more authority to fire employees when there are repeated, credible reports of harassment. “A culture of tolerance of harassment and discrimination is unacceptable for me, and for the president, and we will take action,” he said.

Lyndsey Gilpin is a former HCN fellow and the editor of , a newsletter covering environmental and cultural issues of the American South.

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • 541-987-2363, [email protected] www.dukewarnerrealtyofeasternoregon.com
  • The Operations Manager is a full-time permanent position with Friends of the Inyo, a non-profit dedicated to protecting and restoring the public lands of California's...
  • Elizabeth Venable, MA, MPA, grant writer, is an ecologist with experience writing for environmental, social justice, and arts organizations. She has raised $850,000 in grants...
  • WLN is hiring a full-time organizer to lead our work in Indian Country.
  • Reporting to the Board of Directors (Board), the Executive Director (ED) has overall operational responsibility for FoGB staff, programs, expansion, and execution of the mission....
  • Friends of the Inyo seeks a California Desert Lands Protection Fellow to assist with an effective campaign to defend lands in the California desert, including...
  • Part-time, 6-month contractor to promote the benefits of cutting methane waste and reducing ozone.
  • Part-time, 6-month contractor to promote the benefits of cutting methane waste and reducing ozone.
  • Join the Center for Conservation Peacebuilding for a workshop to build your capacity to transform conflicts and create lasting solutions for people and wildlife. April...
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • Trout Unlimited in New Mexico is seeking a coordinator to work on campaigns and projects that conserve quality fish and wildlife habitats. This position is...
  • The American Forest Foundation (AFF) seeks a smart and highly motivated candidate to join their Western conservation team. The California Conservation Manager supports the Director,...
  • Nov 7-8 in Grand Junction, CO Keynote: Brad Udall on Climate Change Other Topics: Threats to Food Energy Water Security From Forecasting to Decision-Making Science...
  • For more information on RE Sources and a full job description: visit our website:
  • The Rio Grande is one of the Wests most vital rivers and it is in dire need of a passionate, steadfast, and persistent advocate. We...
  • with home on one acre in Pocatello, ID. For information and photos visit www.blackrockforgeproperty.com.
  • Skiing, biking, hiking, fishing, 3 bd/2 bth, deck. 1.38 acres, no covenants. Call Reggie Masters, Associate Broker Coldwell Banker Bighorn Realty, 970-596-3568.
  • Here is an opportunity to have a piece of self-sufficient paradise on Idaho's Main Salmon River adjacent to the largest Forest Service wilderness area in...
  • Help protect Montanas water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the world a better place!...
  • San Juan Citizens Alliance is seeking a full-time San Juan Energy Campaign Organizer located in Farmington, New Mexico. The San Juan Energy Campaign Organizer focuses...