For Immediate Release
Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337
Federal Agent Sacked for Reporting Illegal Cougar Kills
Upcoming Whistleblower Hearing to Air Corruption in Nevada U.S. Wildlife
WASHINGTON - A federal agent who reported that his colleagues had illegally used
government airplanes to hunt mountain lions was fired in retaliation,
according to filings released today by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The legal complaint filed by Gary
Strader, a professional hunter for U.S. Wildlife Services, is one of
the first whistleblower cases arising during the Obama administration.
How the case is handled may give important clues as to whether civil
servants can expect a respite from the heavy-handed personnel practices
that characterized the Bush administration.
Gary Strader worked for Wildlife Services, an arm of the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, as a hunter and tracker, principally of
coyotes, out of the agency's Ely, Nevada office. His job was abruptly
eliminated after he reported both to his regional office, as well as
the FBI, that his agency co-workers had -
- Illegally shot as many as five mountain lions from
government airplanes. These actions constitute a felony under the
Airborne Hunting Act, as well as violating Nevada state hunting laws;
- Filed false statements to cover up the offenses.
Mountain lions are difficult to track overland in rugged Nevada
terrain. Federal employees in search of trophies (the heads were
removed but the animals were not pelted) took the easier course of
spotting and shooting mountain lions from the air.
After his supervisors determined that Strader's reports would not
likely result in prosecution, he was notified that there were no longer
funds to support his position. When Strader asked whether his
termination was due to his pursuit of the violations, the Director of
the Nevada Office for Wildlife Services, Mark Jensen, responded
affirmatively. The Whistleblower Protection Act forbids the discharge
of a federal employee in connection with his or her disclosures of
crimes or other waste, fraud or abuse.
Strader's whistleblower complaint will be heard this summer by a
judge of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, the court system for
the federal civil service. His lead attorney is Salt Lake City attorney
April Hollingsworth assisted by lawyers from PEER, a national
environmental whistleblower defense organization.
"This is a blatant case of reprisal," stated PEER Staff Counsel
Christine Erickson. "It is now up to the Obama administration to either
defend this crude retaliation against Mr. Strader or to restore him and
clean house at Wildlife Services."
Besides the legal violations and misuse of taxpayer funds, aerial
hunting is an inherently dangerous activity. Nevada has had several
aerial gunning accidents in recent years.
Wildlife Services has also drawn growing opposition from
conservation, taxpayer and humane groups who see the agency as a
misguided, ineffective subsidy for agribusiness. Each year, Wildlife
Services kills approximately 87,000 coyotes as part of an annual
wildlife take of more than 2 million animals.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.