Craig Hover a 21 year veteran with the Bureau of Land Management in Ely was dismissed earlier this year in April, and has since challenged his dismissal, with the help of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Charges that this discharge was illegal retaliation in violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act.
Hoover’s case will be heard by Merit Systems Protection Board, on October 21-22, 2019.
During 2018, Craig Hoover, a 21-year BLM veteran, reported numerous violations, including grazing trespass in areas outside of permits and in excess of permit limits, and stolen fencing materials. BLM’s Ely Field Office took no enforcement action but instead fired Mr. Hoover.
BLM relied upon two seemingly pretextual reasons as the basis for termination: a four-hour delay in Mr. Hoover’s locating one permittee’s permit paperwork and misplacing his own ID badge for about five minutes inside the Field Office’s breakroom. Hoover, “I left my badge next to my cup of coffee in the break room, and the minute I walked out the door, I realized where I had left my badge.”
Hoover’s job held an incredible amount of time working independently. When Hoover transferred from the Caliente, BLM office to Ely’s office 20 years ago, he was responsible for covering 8 million acres of BLM land by himself for a six month period. Hoover explains that at that time, it becames triage, “it’s not resource management, and even with 3 staff coming on board covering it made things very challenging.”
Peter Jenkins with PEER, “we took an interest in Craig’s case because he represents the kind of civil servant that we want to represent and help out. He’s tried to do the right thing, and he’s crossed wires with his bosses and run into what appears to be retaliatory removal for the work he was doing. He’s tried to make the right choice all along, and we are going to work the have him reinstated.”
When asked if Hoover had any prior disciplinary actions prior to his dismissal Hoover answered yes. A three days suspension for not following directions, and an incident where Hoover allegedly went AWOL, even after he had contacted his supervisor when he was out on sick leave. A procedure he had been doing for the past 20 years. Which led to a deduction out of his check. A employee who had received pay increase, a large amount of leave time between sick and vacation time.
Hoover managed 13 permittee’s, and 1.3 million acres by himself for the past several years. Any recommendations would be made to management and they would have the final say. Someone who was reported for illegal grazing, had reportedly been reported several times over the course of several years.
Jenkins, “the managers were not willing to take compliance actions, as they had done in the past, it weakened things, and was retaliated against for keeping that pressure on to take the actions.”
Hoover explains the ripple effect is causes in the ranching community. “It sets a precedence, for example, if one individual (permittee) is illegally grazing, and another rancher is looking on across the fence, and is potentially illegally grazing, enforcing compliance becomes an issue, it has ramifications and my ability to do my job.”
Hoovers supervisor, Chris Mayer retired within minutes of giving Hoover his letter of dismissal. Mindi Seal, who was the District Field Manager at the time, has since been moved into another position in the department.
Some permitee’s have as little as seven head of cattle, some seven hundred, and some have a thousand sheep. Some have owned their ranches for years, or decades, but one thing remains the same for all, and that is the ability to graze their livestock on BLM land.
Jenkins, “it’s a shame for the public to lose a man with his expertise.” Hoover notes that several people have asked him why he stays in Ely with the recent dismissal. “It is absolutely an amazing place, I have such a desire to stay here, and there is a lot at stake here, but it is a unique place that I really enjoy living in.”
A records request was made with the BLM in regards to permittee violations, and grazing permits, on September 9, 2019, but no response has been received at this time.