By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN | Associated Press
August 20, 2005

ALBUQUERQUE -- A regional U.S. Forest Service official who has complained that some of the agency's managers ignored rules and environmental laws in spraying pesticides on forests in the Southwest will soon be without a job.

The Forest Service this week informed Doug Parker, the pesticide coordinator and assistant director of forestry and forest health for the agency's Southwestern Region, that it plans to fire him within 30 days because he failed to follow instructions.

Leonard Lucero, Parker's supervisor and director of forestry and forest health for the region, stated in a letter obtained by The Associated Press that the longtime employee turned in two progress reports that did not follow a specific format.

Lucero wrote that he gave Parker instructions, but Parker failed to follow them. "Therefore, removal is necessary to promote the efficiency of the service," Lucero wrote.

The proposal to terminate Parker, who has worked for the agency for nearly four decades, is the latest salvo in a battle between Parker and regional officials.

Parker's attorney, Dennis Montoya of Albuquerque, said the threat of termination and three previous suspensions for alleged misconduct amount to reprisal for Parker's comments on potential problems with pesticide use in the Southwestern Region.

"They are removing a veteran employee that is highly accomplished and very necessary to the mission of the agency for failing to format a report," Montoya said Thursday. "That should outrage any thinking person, certainly anybody who pays taxes to support this kind of nonsense."

Parker said he is under an order from his supervisor not to speak publicly about the matter and declined to talk with the AP.

While forest spokesman Carl Holguin said Thursday that he could not comment about the case because it is a personnel matter, he denied Parker was under a gag order. Parker's supervisor had requested Parker go through him when communicating with the regional forester, but Holguin said that didn't impact Parker's ability to talk publicly.

Parker filed a whistleblower complaint earlier this year that pointed to what he called a "systemic problem" when it comes to proper pesticide use across several forests in New Mexico and Arizona.

He accused some managers of not preparing environmental-risk assessments and failing to get approval from agency officials who have the authority to make decisions about pesticides.

Parker voiced concerns that not following agency policies or environmental laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act -- which serves as the basis for federal management of public lands -- could lead to "potentially serious public safety and environmental threats."

Holguin has said the federal agency strives to follow all policies regulating pesticides.

Montoya said his client has been subjected to harassment, disciplinary action, removal of duties and impossible demands from his supervisor since he raised concerns about pesticide use.

In a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Parker said Lucero relieved him of all his duties in December and ordered him to train and certify a minimum of 30 employees in pesticide use within nine months. He was also ordered to submit monthly progress reports.

Parker has been suspended three times in the past nine months for allegedly not following his supervisor's instructions.

Among the accusations, Parker did not train and certify more than one employee during one month, did not turn in a progress report on time and failed to turn in information that Lucero had requested about training.

Montoya argues that Parker not only exceeded the training goal, but supplied Lucero with the names of employees he had trained and referenced past progress reports that included the information Lucero wanted.

Montoya was preparing a response to the termination proposal, but said it's possible the case could end up in court.