Undersecretary Nominee Hubbard Promises that Fighting Sexual Harassment Will Be First Priority

From E&E News here:

President Trump’s choice for undersecretary of Agriculture overseeing the Forest Service promised yesterday to make fighting sexual harassment his first priority if confirmed.

“It’d be my first briefing,” James Hubbard told the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee at his confirmation hearing.

As undersecretary for natural resources and environment, Hubbard’s primary responsibility would be over the Forest Service, where a history of sexual harassment and misconduct has unfolded in recent months.

Hubbard faced questions about the issue from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the panel’s ranking Democrat, as well as other lawmakers.

Stabenow said USDA has told the committee that 183 reports of sexual harassment were made at the Forest Service nationally in the past two years, and that officials confirmed 77 of them.

“These are high numbers for an agency,” said Stabenow, who added that she wants to be sure employees who report incidents don’t face retaliation.

Hubbard said he would quickly call officials together for an update on the Forest Service’s progress on the issue, and would protect people who make complaints.

“This idea of ‘it’s safe to come forward’ is essential,” Hubbard said.

The Forest Service’s troubles came to light last year amid news reports and intensified with the resignation of Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke in March (E&E Daily, March 8).

Interim Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen has said she’s implementing several measures, including a toll-free telephone number for employees to call with reports, which generates a response within 24 hours. The agency has also instituted anti-harassment training for permanent and seasonal staff, she said at a hearing in June (E&E Daily, June 6).

Hubbard’s nomination has won praise from forest industry groups and the National Association of State Foresters, of which he was president in 1990.

Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) has said he wants to move as quickly as possible on nominations, although the political environment on the Senate floor threatens to slow them once they clear the committee.

Hubbard, a former state forester in Colorado, also told lawmakers he endorses “active” management of forests that would speed tree-thinning projects aimed at reducing wildfire risks. That work, he said, should be done in cooperation with state forestry officials.

Congress has pressed the Forest Service to increase those efforts, including through the omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2018.

As undersecretary, Hubbard said, he would consult with regional foresters and state officials — then move forward on those programs — knowing the Forest Service can’t treat all the millions of acres it deems in need of attention.

“If we can’t cover everything, what’s most important?” he said he would ask regional foresters.

And he said he agrees with complaints by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) that the three or four years the agency sometimes takes on environmental reviews is too long.

“I don’t consider those timelines acceptable,” Hubbard said.

7 thoughts on “Undersecretary Nominee Hubbard Promises that Fighting Sexual Harassment Will Be First Priority”

  1. The messenger is different, but the message is the same: more active management. Let’s see what happens…

  2. I wonder how many cases could be avoided by eliminating Temporary positions. I’d bet that more than half the sexual harassment incidents involve a Temporary Employee.

    Regarding “active management”, speeding up the paperwork doesn’t get the field work done much faster. Teaching temporaries does take time and money, also resulting in an inferior product. I do think that a “Ground-truthing” company could make some money through an association with eco-lawyers. If you know what you are looking for, you can find problems on the ground (diameter limits, SMZ’s, Controlled areas, etc), especially when forestry work is done by GS-3’s. The ‘ground-truthing’ wages would become part of the court costs and/or settlements. A new ‘cottage industry’?

    • Be cautious how you characterize GS-3 employees, Larry. I was once a GS-3 and received no adverse comments to my performance in preparing timber sales. Though, I concur with your “ground truthing” idea…more eyes on the ground would be a good thing.

    • My experience is that once the case is settled most attorneys are not interested in how the intended prescription is carried out. At one time we tried to have more QA/QC on this, but it was not popular.

      • Such an idea would be before litigation has been initiated, in order to gather evidence against the current plans. A case might be stronger if SMZ’s are wrong, diameter limits are exceeded or other problems. Of course, such inspectors would be trained in ‘evidence collection’. No one likes to have their work overseen but, if they are Temporary timbermarkers, who really cares? *smirk* If the Forest Service is going to use inexperienced people, then it probably is good to force the Forest Service to have more oversight, and pay for it. Make it expensive to continue their current employment practices! And get a better ‘finished product’. That seems to be the best avenue for fixing a broken system that has been a problem for decades.

        • There have been a few lawsuits involving tree marking. Earth Island Institute v. Carlton (626 F. 3d 462, 9th Circuit 2010) held that the “Plumas National Forest Roadside/Facility Hazard Tree Guidelines” were not binding because they were not substantive rules adopted through public procedures. The dissent pointed out that they were incorporated into both the forest plan and the project decision. Even if they are not binding under APA, deviations from a NEPA decision should be considered a change in that decision, which would trigger the obligation to consider changes in environmental impacts through supplemental NEPA documentation.


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