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Whistleblower reinstated after Nevada grazing dispute

RENO, Nev. — A longtime government range specialist who claimed he was fired in retaliation for repeatedly reporting illegal livestock grazing on federal land in eastern Nevada has been reinstated as part of a settlement of his whistleblower complaint against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

A hearing scheduled Monday on a complaint by Craig Hoover over the firing was cancelled by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, said Peter Jenkins, a senior counsel for the national watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility who represents Hoover.

Hoover said he had been fired in retaliation for filing an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint in 2018 after disclosing illegal grazing and other activities by the holder of a BLM grazing permit. In addition to cattle trespass, he had reported earlier that the permittee had stolen fencing material belonging to the bureau. He said the agency took no enforcement action and instead fired the messenger.

The 21-year veteran of the bureau said he was told he was being terminated because he had caused a four-hour delay in locating a rancher’s grazing permit and had lost his government identification badge for about five minutes in the Ely, Utah, field office’s breakroom.

Hoover said those claims were “substantially inaccurate.”

The watchdog group based in suburban Washington D.C. said those were simply pretexts for his discharge, constituting illegal retaliation in violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act.

Jenkins said Hoover’s firing came as the agency appeared to have stopped enforcement against illegal grazing in Nevada and across the West in the aftermath of a standoff with the Cliven Bundy family over cattle trespassing in southern Nevada in 2014.

PEER said its 2017 survey of western BLM staff found 70% of BLM respondents felt the Bundy incidents had 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 said earlier this year. “As a consequence, America’s rangelands are deliberately left unprotected by the public agency charged with their stewardship.”

The Bureau of Land Management didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

Scott Sonner, The Associated Press

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