Wildlife ser­vice make hir­ing women, mi­nori­ties top pri­or­ity

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY S.A. MILLER AND STEPHEN DI­NAN

EASTERN NECK NA­TIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, MD. | The Del­marva fox squir­rel, an en­dan­gered crit­ter that scam­pers through the woods and grass­land of this pris­tine is­land in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, may not care about the race or gen­der of the wildlife bi­ol­o­gists safe­guard­ing its home.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice back in Wash­ing­ton does.

The agency’s lead­ers dou­bled down on an Obama-era pro­gram that made hir­ing of mi­nori­ties and women a top pri­or­ity, and man­agers are rais­ing red flags about the re­sult­ing staffing prob­lems at the more than 500 wildlife refuges across the coun­try.

The pro­gram, launched in 2016, cen­tral­ized re­cruit­ment and hir­ing for sci­ence jobs at the Wash­ing­ton head­quar­ters.

The ser­vice’s di­rec­tors in Wash­ing­ton this year are revving up the ef­fort with two na­tional hir­ing cam­paigns to tar­get mi­nori­ties and women dur­ing spring and win­ter col­lege grad­u­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to a brief­ing pa­per ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Times.

It’s not clear whether there is a large pool of mi­nor­ity can­di­dates look­ing to get in­volved in the field. Many of the agency’s em­ploy­ees had ru­ral up­bring­ings in places where hunt­ing, fish­ing and other out­door ac­tiv­i­ties were com­mon.

One se­nior Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice em­ployee said the cen­tral­ized process means the agency will end up send­ing a pool of can­di­dates who are picked not be­cause they are eager to count birds, but be­cause they have a bi­ol­ogy de­gree and are part of a mi­nor­ity group.

“We’re not look­ing for peo­ple to do this par­tic­u­lar job; we’re look­ing for peo­ple who have a par­tic­u­lar race or gen­der,” said the em­ployee, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied for fear of ret­ri­bu­tion.

The em­ployee said those who do the hir­ing at refuges al­ready push for di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion.

In­deed, at a cer­tain level of se­nior­ity, man­agers’ ad­vance­ment de­pends in part on how well they pro­mote women and mi­nori­ties.

Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice spokesman Gavin Shire said the fo­cus on hir­ing women and mi­nori­ties is not about the an­i­mals and the en­vi­ron­ment but about the health of the agency.

“We can­not con­serve wildlife and their habi­tats in a vac­uum. We need the sup­port of the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” he said. “We can­not gain the sup­port of a di­verse pub­lic with­out be­ing sim­i­larly di­verse our­selves.”

The agency is at­tempt­ing to ad­dress com­plaints from man­agers at the refuges about be­ing at the tail end of the hir­ing process, he said.

“This time, the ser­vice will take a col­lec­tive ap­proach to de­ci­sion-mak­ing at all stages of the hir­ing process and in an ef­fort to in­crease cor­po­rate own­er­ship and ac­count­abil­ity of work­force plan­ning and hu­man cap­i­tal man­age­ment,” said Mr. Shire.

The agency’s data un­der­score the dif­fi­culty in re­cruit­ing mi­nori­ties but not women for sci­ence jobs.

In fis­cal 2017, the ser­vice hired 27 wildlife bi­ol­o­gists con­sist­ing of eight white men (29.6 per­cent), 12 white women (44.4 per­cent), one black man (3.7 per­cent), one His­panic man (3.7 per­cent), one His­panic woman (3.7 per­cent), three Asian women (11.1 per­cent) and one Amer­i­can In­dian or Alaska Na­tive man (3.7 per­cent), ac­cord­ing to the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice’s an­nual equal em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­nity re­port.

Over­all, the ser­vice hired more women than men as wildlife bi­ol­o­gists. The 16 women and 11 men ac­counted for 59.3 per­cent and 40.7 per­cent, re­spec­tively.

De­spite the low num­bers for hir­ing mi­nori­ties as wildlife bi­ol­o­gists, the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice dra­mat­i­cally im­proved mi­nor­ity re­cruit­ment over the pre­vi­ous year.

In fis­cal 2016, the ser­vice did not hire any mi­nori­ties for the sci­ence job. The 22 hires for the po­si­tion that year were filled by 12 white men and 10 white women, ac­cord­ing to an an­nual equal em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­nity re­port.

The cen­tral­ized hir­ing also ap­pears to run con­trary to In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke’s plan for a ma­jor re­or­ga­ni­za­tion of the de­part­ment, which in­cludes the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, to shift author­ity from Wash­ing­ton to re­gional of­fices, where man­agers have the most hands-on knowl­edge about lo­cal wildlife and habi­tat.

Heather Swift, se­nior ad­viser to Mr. Zinke, did not re­spond to ques­tions about the re­or­ga­ni­za­tion. She said Mr. Zinke gen­er­ally sup­ports re­cruit­ing peo­ple from all back­grounds to pur­sue ca­reers at the de­part­ment, in­clud­ing in sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics (STEM) fields.

“Un­der his lead­er­ship, the de­part­ment has its first fe­male Bu­reau of Recla­ma­tion di­rec­tor, first fe­male Alaska Na­tive as­sis­tant sec­re­tary, and the first His­pan­icAmer­i­can Na­tional Park Ser­vice di­rec­tor (if con­firmed),” Ms. Swift said in an email to The Times.

There is broad agree­ment that ex­pand­ing mi­nor­ity par­tic­i­pa­tion in wildlife sci­ences be­gins with early ed­u­ca­tion and ex­po­sure to na­ture.

The Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice works on that front at more than 100 ur­ban wildlife refuges across the coun­try.

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