NPS Director: 'Zero Tolerance' for Sexual Misconduct at Parks

Park Service getting serious about sex harassment after Grand Canyon, Canaveral cases
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 25, 2016 11:37 AM CDT

(Newser) – Two well-publicized patterns of misconduct that went ignored for years now have the National Park Service hammering hard on a "zero tolerance" culture when it comes to sexual harassment—and Director Jonathan Jarvis isn't mincing words. Per the Washington Post, Jarvis sent an email Wednesday to about 22,000 NPS workers: "When incidents of harassment are reported, I expect [Park Service] managers to follow up on those allegations," Jarvis wrote. And not just investigate, but also hand down disciplinary measures if the accusations are found to be true, which apparently didn't happen at both Grand Canyon National Park and Canaveral National Seashore, where a longtime pattern of harassment was discovered. Two NPS managers have been promoted to help address this issue, which National Parks Traveler notes can often be difficult due to personnel and labor union rules.

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The Grand Canyon probe received much of the attention, with a federal investigation finding a "what happens on the river stays on the river" culture, including female rafting guides pressured to have sex with male colleagues, inappropriate touching and remarks, and retaliation when they rebuffed advances. Christine Lehnertz, one of the promoted managers, has been named the Grand Canyon's superintendent, replacing Dave Uberuaga, who retired amid allegations that he dismissed formal sexual harassment complaints. "In the midst of a very bright up, the Centennial year, we have learned of some very dark downs," Lehnertz said in an email last week to employees. "Some of our NPS colleagues have suffered immeasurable harm, and the outrageous misconduct of a few park employees has driven dedicated professionals away from federal service." Among other changes Jarvis announced: a confidential hotline victims can call, an employee survey dealing directly with the issue, and the office that looks into harassment complaints reporting directly to him. (Read more National Park Service stories.)

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