RENO, Nev. - After enduring a year and a half of what she calls Nevada's "fed bashing," Gloria Flora couldn't take it anymore. The supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the largest national forest in the lower 48 states, submitted her resignation Nov. 8.
But Flora didn't go quietly.
Instead, she used her resignation to shine a spotlight on the
difficult conditions that many federal employees face in Nevada.
"The attitude towards federal employees and
federal laws in Nevada is pitiful," Flora wrote in an open letter
to employees of the national forest, a letter which was faxed to
the media. "People in rural communities who do respect the law and
accept responsibility for it are often rebuked or ridiculed. They
are compared to collaborators with the Vichy government in
"Officials at all levels
of government in Nevada participate in this irresponsible
fed-bashing," she continued. "The public is largely silent,
watching as if this were a spectator sport. This level of
anti-federal fervor is simply not acceptable."
Flora's resignation came five days before a
special congressional hearing in Elko, Nev., organized by Rep.
Helen Chenoweth-Hage, R-Idaho, chairman of the House Resources
subcommittee on forests and forest health, and Rep. Jim Gibbons,
R-Nev. The hearing concerned a controversial mile-and-a-half
stretch of dirt road in the national forest outside of Jarbidge,
Nev., (HCN, 10/25/99).
The dead-end road leads
to a wilderness area and was washed out in a flood on the Jarbidge
River four years ago. Since then it has been the focus of a
tug-of-war between the Elko County government and some local
sagebrush rebels who want the road rebuilt, and the Forest Service
and Trout Unlimited, who say rebuilding the road will jeopardize a
threatened bull trout population.
Flora said the
hearing was designed to be a public inquisition of federal
employees, and she refused to participate. But in an interview at
her home in the sagebrush desert north of Reno, Flora said she had
made up her mind to leave Nevada long before the Jarbidge conflict
escalated into a public confrontation in October, when Elko
activists tried to rebuild the road.
she quickly realized that she could not do her job to protect the
resources and provide a safe working environment for her employees
in a state in which people were able to threaten federal employees
and break federal laws with impunity.
"I'm not a
hero," she said. "If I were a hero, maybe I'd stick around. I'm not
choosing to stay around. I'm choosing to stand up and get a debate
Flora, 44, has spent half her life
working for the Forest Service in the West, in Montana, Wyoming,
Idaho and Utah. She is no stranger to controversy. Before coming to
Nevada in 1998, she made her mark as a forest supervisor who was
willing to make tough calls when she decided to allow no drilling
for oil and gas along the Rocky Mountain Front in the Lewis and
Clark National Forest (HCN, 10/31/97).
seemed like the perfect candidate for the difficult assignment in
Nevada. And it was a step up the career ladder to a bigger, more
complicated forest for an ambitious woman whom others say was on a
steady track for the job of regional forester, or perhaps even
chief some day. Although Flora put all that at risk by resigning,
Forest Service officials said they hoped she would decide to take
another job in the agency.
"She is precisely the
kind of person we want to elevate to senior leadership positions,"
said Chris Wood, assistant to the chief of the Forest Service.
"What Gloria's done is had the courage to speak up. And she's
identified a festering problem that's been out there a decade or
more. And something good will come of it. She will thrive and it's
our intention that she'll thrive in the Forest Service."
Flora said she didn't know what she would do
next. But she will leave Nevada by the end of the year. "I am not
happy here," she said. "I've got internal support, but that doesn't
cut it. I was feeling pretty much alone in the state.
"I expected, perhaps naively, to see some
balance here," Flora said during the interview at the kitchen table
in her home, where a bouquet of roses and a stack of letters of
support may have seemed too little too late. "I knew it was a tough
forest. What surprised me was the level of animosity."
In her letter, Flora said Forest Service
employees have been castigated in public, shunned in their
communities, refused service in restaurants, kicked out of motels,
harassed, called before kangaroo courts, and had their lives
threatened (see Risks multiply, page 20).
was surprised, she said, by the pervasiveness of anti-federal
sentiment at all levels in the state, the small size and limited
strength of the environmental movement, the lack of support from
elected officials such as the governor and congressional
delegation, and the apathy of the general public.
In something of a confirmation of her criticism,
Flora's resignation was greeted with mild expressions of regret
from Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the state's senior member of
Flora said she tried to maintain good
relations with the senator and other top elected officials in
Nevada. But she conceded that her relationship with Sen. Reid was
strained by her public disagreement with the lax prosecution of
environmental cases by Kathryn Landreth, U.S. attorney for the
District of Nevada, whom the senator worked hard to have appointed.
Flora said she was also unhappy when the Justice
Department recommended that Forest Service law enforcement
officials stay away from Jarbidge during the planned road building,
even though the Justice Department agreed it was illegal.
Finding a replacement for Flora may not be easy.
She said that 60 of the 200 employees of the Humboldt-Toiyabe
National Forest left for other forests during her tenure. She said
she supported employees who wanted to get out of Nevada, even
though filling those positions has not been easy. When the agency
advertised a job in portions of the national forest in California's
Sierra Nevada, it typically got more than 100 applications. Jobs in
rural Nevada, she said, were lucky to attract a handful of
* Jon Christensen
Jon Christensen writes about
the Great Basin from Carson City, Nevada.