Yosemite chief, facing staff claims of harassment, to retire

FILE - In this July 28, 2014 file photo, Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher talks about the fire situation in El Portal, Calif. Neubacher is retiring after employees complained that he created a hostile workplace by allowing bullying, harassment and other misconduct, allegations also raised in other popular national parks, officials said Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016. (Mark Crosse /The Fresno Bee via AP, File)

FRESNO, Calif. - The head of Yosemite National Park will retire after employees complained that he created a hostile workplace by allowing bullying, harassment and other misconduct — allegations that have been made in other national parks, officials said Thursday.

Superintendent Don Neubacher announced his plan Wednesday, said Andrew Munoz, a spokesman for the National Park Service.

Neubacher said in an email to Yosemite employees that regional administrators had decided it was time for new leadership and offered to transfer him to Denver as a senior adviser.

His decision to retire came less than a week after a congressional oversight committee said at least 18 Yosemite staffers had complained of a toxic work environment.

The hearing also spotlighted wider allegations of sexual harassment, bullying and other misconduct among employees at Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Canaveral National Seashore in Florida.

Neubacher headed Yosemite for nearly seven years and spent 37 years with the park service.

He did not respond to requests for comment but said in the email to workers provided to The Associated Press that his retirement is effective Nov. 1 and he will go on leave immediately.

"I regret leaving at this time, but want to do what's best for Yosemite National Park," he wrote. "It is an iconic area that is world renowned and deserves special attention."

Neubacher did not mention the workplace allegations but he did list several accomplishments at the park under his leadership, including restoring native species such as the Western Pond turtles and winning approval to improve conditions along the park's two wild rivers.

In May, Grand Canyon National Park superintendent Dave Uberuaga also chose retirement over a transfer after being told the park needed new leadership to address a longstanding pattern of sexual harassment and other workplace hostility.

At the recent congressional hearing, Kelly Martin, Yosemite's fire chief, testified that Neubacher publicly humiliated her and intimidated staffers in front of others.

"In Yosemite National Park today, dozens of people, the majority of whom are women, are being bullied, belittled, disenfranchised and marginalized," Martin said in written testimony.

Yosemite employees described "horrific working conditions (that) lead us to believe that the environment is indeed toxic, hostile, repressive and harassing," the park service said in a preliminary report last month.

Neubacher sent an apology email to all park employees days after the hearing, referencing "some serious staff concerns related to Yosemite's workplace environment."

U.S. House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said in an interview Wednesday, prior to Neubacher's retirement announcement, that he was concerned about a "corrosive culture" that tolerates sexual harassment within the National Park Service and has been allowed to persist too long.

The Utah Republican expressed dismay that those responsible for the misconduct — either directly or because it occurred under their watch — had not been punished sufficiently and instead were promoted or shifted to other positions.

Chaffetz and other lawmakers have said problems at Yosemite are exacerbated because Neubacher's wife, Patricia Neubacher, is deputy director for the agency's Pacific region, which includes Yosemite.

The inspector general of the U.S. Interior Department has launched investigations into conditions at Yosemite and Yellowstone.

The agency has grappled with sexual harassment since at least 1999, when then-Director Robert Stanton appointed a task force focused on problems faced by women in park law enforcement.

The task force surveyed female employees and concluded that the park service was an organization in crisis with systemic mistreatment of women.

Fifty-two per cent of the women employees surveyed said they had personally experienced sexual harassment while working for the park service.

The park service currently has almost 25,000 employees, with about 63 per cent of them men.


Brown reported from Billings, Montana.

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