Yosemite Chief Retiring Amid Complaints of Hostile Workplace

Superintendent Don Neubacher announced his plans Wednesday

By Dillon Tabish

FRESNO, Calif. — The head of Yosemite National Park is retiring after employees complained that he created a hostile workplace by allowing bullying, harassment and other misconduct, allegations also raised in other popular national parks, officials said Thursday.

Superintendent Don Neubacher announced his plans Wednesday, said Andrew Munoz, a spokesman for the National Park Service. Regional administrators decided it was time for new leadership and offered to transfer him to Denver as a senior adviser to the agency’s deputy director, Neubacher said in an emailed statement to park employees that was provided to The Associated Press.

It comes less than a week after a congressional oversight committee unveiled that at least 18 Yosemite staffers complained of a toxic work environment. The hearing also showed wider allegations of sexual harassment, bullying and other misconduct among employees at national parks including Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.

Neubacher, who headed Yosemite for nearly seven years, was not immediately available for comment but said in Wednesday’s message that his retirement is effective Nov. 1 and he will be on leave immediately.

“I regret leaving at this time, but want to do what’s best for Yosemite National Park,” he wrote. “It is an iconic area that is world renowned and deserves special attention.”

Neubacher did not mention the allegations but listed several accomplishments the park made in recent years under his leadership, including adding 400 acres and restoring native Western Pond turtles. He worked with the park service for 37 years.

BuzzFeed first reported Neubacher’s resignation.

At the congressional hearing, Kelly Martin, Yosemite’s chief of fire chief and aviation management, testified that Neubacher publicly humiliated her and intimidated staffers in front of others.

“In Yosemite National Park today, dozens of people, the majority of whom are women, are being bullied, belittled, disenfranchised and marginalized,” according to Martin’s written testimony.

Yosemite employees described “horrific working conditions (that) lead us to believe that the environment is indeed toxic, hostile, repressive and harassing,” the park service said in a preliminary report last month.

Neubacher sent an apology email to all park employees days after the hearing, referencing “some serious staff concerns related to Yosemite’s workplace environment.”

U.S. House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said in an AP interview Wednesday, prior to Neubacher’s retirement announcement, that he was concerned about a “corrosive culture” that tolerates sexual harassment within the National Park Service and has been allowed to persist for too long.

The Utah Republican predicted that the number of parks with sexual harassment scandals will grow as victims become more confident they will be heard.

He expressed dismay that those responsible for the misconduct — either directly or because it occurred under their watch — had not been punished sufficiently and instead promoted or shifted to other positions.

Chaffetz and other lawmakers have said problems at Yosemite are exacerbated because Neubacher’s wife, Patricia Neubacher, is deputy director for the Pacific region, which includes Yosemite.

The inspector general of the U.S. Interior Department launched an investigation into the Yosemite accusations on Aug. 29, office spokeswoman Nancy DiPaolo said.

DiPaolo said the investigation and a similar one that began this week at Yellowstone National Park were park-specific and would not try to address sexual harassment issues that might exist across the National Park Service.

“We have a unique mission and our workforce is the lifeline of our organization,” the agency’s regional director, Laura Joss, said in an email to Yosemite employees. “We are committed to providing you a workplace that promotes our values and is free of discrimination or harassment.”