Protecting the protectors

 

The public lands are arguably the West’s most precious resource. These half-billion acres of forests, red-rock canyons, spectacular peaks and subtly beautiful seas of grassland and sagebrush are deeply important to anyone who cares about our region. To protect and manage these lands, we rely on a host of federal, state and local agencies, and on the dedicated people who work for them — men and women whose work often goes unnoticed, and who even face threats of violence from radicals who resent having to share with the rest of us.

That’s why it is so disconcerting to learn that women in public-lands agencies are often harassed or abused by their male colleagues, making an already-hard job even harder. And it is not just occasional incidents. In January, HCN began investigating allegations into a long history of abuse in Grand Canyon National Park. In recent months, we’ve expanded that search, first focusing on the National Park Service, but now looking at other agencies as well.

We have received dozens of reports from readers, outlining myriad examples of harassment and abuse, and they keep coming. We’ve heard from people who have been silent for years, even decades, who have had their careers and lives disrupted and derailed. What has emerged is an unacceptable pattern of abuse, often ignored or mishandled by supervisors and leadership.

Managing editor Brian Calvert

In this issue, correspondent Krista Langlois examines one of the public lands’ most macho subcultures: wildland firefighting. Many women firefighters have found equal footing with men, but still face harassment and abuse. One woman recalls being labeled “The Whore” by anonymous colleagues and fending off a rape attempt by a superior. Unfortunately, her story is not unusual.

So, how pervasive is this problem, and what can we do about it? We need your help to answer these questions, and we’d like to hear from you — women and men alike. What problems have you experienced, and what solutions do you see? Eventually, we’d like to find a way to bring victims together with agency leaders, in an effort to make safer workplaces for everyone. You can read more about the issue at hcne.ws/harassment-legacy, and report incidents confidentially using an online tip form in those stories, or through the mail, via a form on page 17.

We can’t safeguard the public lands unless we protect their protectors, the men and women who put their blood and sweat into preserving these very special places for all of us. They deserve gratitude, not disrespect.