Forest Service Battalion Chief resigns in open letter to the Secretary of Agriculture

Abby Bolt
Abby Bolt

A wildland firefighter resigned last week after serving for 22 years in the U.S. Forest Service. Abby Bolt sent a letter to Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture, and Vicki Christiansen, Chief of the Forest Service, saying the resignation was effective immediately. She had risen through the ranks to the Battalion Chief level, becoming a District Assistant Fire Management Officer on the Kern River Ranger District of the Sequoia National Forest in California.

In a version of the letter that was posted on the Up in Flames website, Ms. Bolt said Forest Service leaders “failed to demonstrate moral courage by adhering to high ethical standards, and choosing the difficult right over the easy wrong helped me in determining my decision to resign.”

Below is an excerpt from the letter, used with permission:

I had high hopes to continue my fire career as a strong leader, proving to my son that I could be an exceptional mother, while managing a fire program and working on emergency incidents of all complexities. Little did I know, I would encounter a toxic dynamic of leadership that made my job, which was my life, a complete misery. The repeated statement by my management, “if you don’t like it you can leave” is what motivated me to hang on for so long, tolerating a manipulative style of management while continually looking for angles to successfully turn this toxic work environment around.

My parents, worked far too hard for such an amazing piece of land for me to simply be pushed away to another agency location because of a few people in managerial positions, who care more about maintaining and consolidating their power than they do about their employees. Sadly even my parents worry about retaliation. They are afraid someone may find a way to harm them as a way to hurt me. When they shared that with me it broke my heart, but proved to me how detrimental my situation has been.

But is that what you want? Quality individuals to leave dangerous work environments because they know that option is safer than speaking up? So far, the loud and clear answer I have seen and heard is YES. I simply can’t see how the USFS and USDA will ever improve with that mentality.

Ms. Bolt told us that the version of the letter sent to Mr. Perdue and Ms. Christiansen was more detailed. “I named names and listed some of the disgusting behavior occurring by my supervisors and supported by employee relations. My attorney thought it best [to hold] some of that back from the public version.”

She said she created the “Her Brotherhood” podcast and the Up in Flames website, “So that hard truths could be told and people could safely share and comment anonymously without being retaliated on. I hope it inspires others so that when they feel they are going down in flames, they instead fly up.”

Forest Service Chief Christiansen is expected to testify today, April 9, from 10 until 12 a.m. EDT before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee “to examine the President’s budget request for the Forest Service for Fiscal Year 2020.”  These hearings are usually live-streamed at the link above.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

7 thoughts on “Forest Service Battalion Chief resigns in open letter to the Secretary of Agriculture”

  1. Those individuals that are truly dedicated and devoted to what is right are so few. It is a sad, sad day when one is forced out because others around her lack the backbone & fortitude she possesses.

  2. Yup, sounds about right. I worked on the SQF, and until there is a change in the “macho/tolerate everything” culture, nothing will change. The lying, belittling, backstabbing, lack of trust, favoritism, nepotism, and ass-covering was so prevalent, its a wonder only Alicia Dabney and Abby Bolt are the only ones that have spoken up about the SQF toxic morass.

    Follow the trail of people who have left the SQF. The good ones leave as quickly as possible. GS-3 to SES – they find them quick and make them leave.

    1. Thank you for supporting all of this. I believe there have been more who have spoken out such as Darla Bush and Jonel Waggoner, they were both highlighted in the PBS story.

  3. You know damn well that the USFS is monitoring your site as well as Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites looking for disgruntled employees. We live in a culture of fear, harassment, intimidation and retaliation no matter of your sex, sexual preference, age, nationality, race, color, religious beliefs and work ethic. It does not matter what forest you work in. If you do not conform to the corrupt management practices within this agency or at least keep your mouth shut, you have a target on your back!

    1. Hence the reason I posted from a public computer, with a non-identifying email address, and not using my fake name. Even though I left the FS years ago and I trust Bill, IP addresses can and will be required to be turned over to the feds for little more than personal vendettas.

    2. The tides need to turn where people aren’t afraid that the agency is watching but the agency is afraid of what is being said about them. If they are operating by the values they boast then nothing said on social media would be an issue because it would all be outweighed by positive posts.

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