Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher, under intense criticism and scrutiny over allegations of gender bias and sexual harassment at the park, abruptly announced his resignation Wednesday.
In an email to park employees Wednesday evening, Neubacher said he met earlier that day with the National Park Service’s regional director, Laura Joss, in which “it was determined that new leadership was needed at Yosemite National Park.”
“I was offered a detail in Denver as a senior adviser” to Park Service deputy director Michael Reynolds, Neubacher added. But “since my home is in California, I have opted to retire effective Nov. 1. … I will be on leave effective immediately.”
“I regret leaving at this time, but want to do what’s best for Yosemite National Park,” he added.
Never miss a local story.
Neubacher’s 37-year career with the Park Service has included stints at San Francisco’s Presidio, Point Reyes National Seashore and Glacier Bay National Park before he became Yosemite’s superintendent six years ago.
I regret leaving at this time, but want to do what’s best for Yosemite National Park.
Park superintendent Don Neubacher
Neubacher was unavailable Thursday to discuss his resignation, which comes amid an investigation by the Interior Department into employee complaints about the work environment fostered under his leadership.
“In order to preserve the integrity of the ongoing investigation into allegations of a hostile work environment at Yosemite National Park, the National Park Service acted to move Don Neubacher from his role as superintendent,” said Andrew Muñoz, a spokesman for the Park Service’s Pacific West Region in San Francisco. He added that the Park Service accepted Neubacher’s resignation on Thursday, effective Nov. 1.
“The investigation is ongoing, and there are not yet any findings or conclusions relating to the allegations,” Muñoz said.
When The Bee asked Muñoz for the chance to talk to Neubacher, he said in an email reply: “Mr. Neubacher is currently on leave until his retirement date. So he is not available for an interview.”
Earlier this week, days after a contentious congressional oversight hearing that included harsh criticism of his leadership, Neubacher sent an email to park employees apologizing over “serious staff concerns.”
During the Sept. 23 hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the park’s fire/aviation management chief Kelly Martin testified that she had both witnessed and endured repeated instances of “bullying, gender bias and favoritism” in her 10 years at Yosemite. “People do fear they aren’t safe bringing issues to management,” she told the committee.
Martin did not return calls from The Bee seeking comment on Neubacher’s resignation.
In order to preserve the integrity of the ongoing investigation into allegations of a hostile work environment at Yosemite National Park, the National Park Service acted to move Don Neubacher from his role as superintendent.
Andrew Muños, spokesman for the Park Service’s Pacific West Region
Supported gateway communities
Rhonda Salisbury, CEO of Visit Yosemite/Madera County, a tourism promotion agency based in Oakhurst, said she’s had a “great working relationship” with Neubacher during his tenure as superintendent. “We’ve been through hard times like the Merced River plan and amazing times like the park’s anniversaries,” Salisbury said. “We’ve always been able to talk through any issues we had. I felt like he respected the opinions of the gateway communities.”
In 2014, Yosemite celebrated the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s Yosemite Grant Act. In 2015 came the park’s formal 125th anniversary. Earlier this year, the park hosted President Barack Obama as part of a celebration of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who chairs the House oversight committee, told The Associated Press on Wednesday – before Neubacher announced his resignation – that he was concerned about a “corrosive culture” that tolerates sexual harassment within the Park Service and has been allowed to persist for too long. Chaffetz and other lawmakers have said problems at Yosemite are exacerbated because Neubacher’s wife, Patricia Neubacher, is deputy director of the Park Service’s Pacific region, which includes Yosemite.
Salisbury said she wasn’t familiar enough with the concerns of Park Service employees to offer a comment. “I don’t want to disregard what employees have experienced,” she said. But, Salisbury added, “I’m going to miss working with him.”
Linda Mazzu, Yosemite’s chief of resource management and science, will be the park’s interim acting superintendent in the short term, according to Joss’ email to employees. Woody Smeck, the superintendent at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, will take on the duties of acting superintendent at Yosemite, starting on Oct. 17.
Muñoz said no schedule has been determined for appointing a permanent replacement for Neubacher.
But Salisbury was heartened to learn that Mazzu and Smeck will be taking the reins of the park on at least an interim basis. Smeck previously served for over a year as Yosemite’s deputy superintendent before he was promoted to the top spot at Sequoia/Kings Canyon in 2013.
“That’s good news,” Salisbury said of the interim and acting appointments. “I worked with Linda during the development of the Merced River plan and for the anniversaries, and in our gateway (community) partner meetings.”
Salisbury also recalled that Smeck was “wonderful to work with” during his time as deputy superintendent at Yosemite. “He’s very open to discussions with everyone, and I appreciate that,” she said.