Government investigators will visit Yellowstone National Park to follow up on allegations of sexual harassment in the Park.
Late last week, we reported that Robert Hester, an employee in the maintenance department, had come forward alleging widespread misconduct by men in the special projects division. Hester alleges male employees created a hostile work environment and exploited female employees in the division.
The allegations are the latest that have cropped up in the national park system. From Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park to Florida’s Canaveral National Seashore to California’s Yosemite National Park, more employees have come forward, alleging widespread sexual harassment across divisions in the Park Service.
According to the Missoulian, Hester submitted a statement to the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which prompted the current investigation. Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) called the accusations “so alarming you would expect the Washington office to come in immediately and make sure things are safe.” From the Missoulian:
In one case, a [Yellowstone] supervisor kept a young female worker drunk and she was in effect paid to have sex, a situation that was common knowledge in the park, Hester said.
“From the date I started to work at the park, I was shocked and amazed at what I saw and heard in regard to the talk and acceptance of sexual exploitation of female workers,” Hester wrote.
He worked from 2010 to 2012 in the special projects division, which Hester described as being like a “men’s only club.” He now has a permanent job as an engineering equipment operator at Yellowstone, which includes portions of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho and was the nation’s first national park.
The accusations also include misuse of government credit cards. Hester said he and another employee had been instructed to violate rules about purchasing repair parts and maintenance.
The investigation would focus initially on the special projects division and expand as needed, Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said Monday. He said no one else has stepped forward with claims similar to Hester’s.
Wenk initially planned to bring in outside investigators to eye the claims. Those plans were canceled when the Inspector General’s Office stepped in, he said.
[…] Inspector General’s Office Director of External Affairs Nancy DiPaolo said the government’s probe of events at Yellowstone will be unlimited.
“We’ll go wherever the leads take us,” she said. “At this point we’re looking into management issues at the park that run the gamut.”
Committee spokeswoman M.J. Henshaw told the Missoulian the allegations reflect the Park Service’s longstanding problem with sexual harassment and abuse. Henshaw added that Yellowstone’s situation, while heinous, may not be as severe wide-ranging as in other national parks, although an investigation is pending.
Wenk told reporters he became aware of the allegations in early September, right around when they were first reported in the Montana Pioneer. He said he was unaware of the situation until it was brought to his attention but took action immediately. U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) said there’s no indication Wenk knew of the allegations beforehand and deliberately ignored them