SHEPHERDSTOWN – The battle between National Park Service Ranger Rob Danno and his superiors over more than 100 trees axed at the request of Washington Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder has been called not the shootout at the OK Corral but the “showdown at the C&O Canal.”
As the Shepherdstown resident details in his new book, the tree-cutting at Snyder’s Potomac River estate didn’t prove deadly to any humans, but his decision to go up against the powers that be in the federal government over the incident did all but kill the parks career he’d long cherished.
Danno agreed to answer questions from the Spirit about his book, “Worth Fighting For: A Park Ranger’s Unexpected Battle,” and what he foresees for himself now that his fight has left him with a position with the parks service in nearby Sharpsburg, Md., but with none of the duties that made his work so meaningful for so long.
Interested in learning more about the controversy first-hand? Danno will talk about his work at a book signing at Four Seasons Books at 116 W. German St. in Shepherdstown at 1 p.m. April 14. To order the book before then, go to Danno’s website, www.HonorCodePublishing.com.
Q. When you first joined the National Park Service, were there any warning signs that someday you’d have to battle the agency the way you were forced to over the incident with Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder?
My experience with the National Park Service, its rangers and most of its leadership has been extremely positive. I rarely observed unethical behavior and when I did it was very minor. In fact, what I observed for 25 years of my career were super-talented, over-invested and completely dedicated employees who believed in the mission of the agency. I was one of them – really, a cheerleader for the agency.
It wasn’t until I transferred to the C&O Canal National Historic Park that I ran into a few corrupt and self-serving employees who were willing to violate our resource protection mission, pander to great wealth and power, cover it up and then attack their accuser.
It was disheartening to learn the agency had these kinds of employees, people who would abuse their power to get anything they want. The good news is, they are not representative of the majority of National Park Service employees, especially the rangers.
Q. For you, what was the lowest point of the whole ordeal?
The lowest point for me was when these corrupt NPS managers decided to play hardball, by executing a search warrant on my home and then staging an arrest-like take down with an agency SWAT team.
Although it was only a detention, the message was clear, and it was frightening. I knew the agency was trying to force me to quit – or else.
Q. What kind of reaction are you getting to “Worth Fighting For: A Park Ranger’s Unexpected Battle”?
Readers have said they have enjoyed the two equally incredible stories, of my ranger career and of the Dan Snyder tree-cutting case. I have received so many supportive letters from people who appreciated my willingness to stand up for the park resources, fulfill my oath of office and model the behaviors they expect of National Park Rangers.
I have been gratified that people understood the risks and difficulties of fighting both the federal government and a billionaire. The feedback I have received from my readers has been extremely positive about the quality of the storytelling and the need for this story to be told.
Q. How are you coping with your current assignment at Antietam National Battlefield?
The staff at Antietam is excellent, dedicated to their jobs and understanding about my plight. However, the corrupt managers in the Washington, D.C., regional office placed me there after the federal trial, then gave me no duties, responsibilities, communication – in essence, they put me in a closet and hoped again that I would quit in frustration.
It has been hard at times and I have felt that even after the successful adjudication of my case, there was no justice. It is this lack of resolution, and the agency’s disrespect for the jury’s verdict, which caused me to write the book.
Q. What is your favorite thing about living in Shepherdstown?
I love Shepherdstown, the place and the people. I enjoy its rich history, the multiple points of view of its people and the many recreational opportunities. I especially like to put our canoe on the Potomac River and enjoy the scenery and our little piece of aquatic serenity.
Q. In an ideal world, what would unfold now – for you and for the NPS?
I am completely dedicated to the mission of the agency and the responsibilities of a National Park Ranger. I would like to continue providing leadership to these dedicated people. I hope that my story helps the agency regain its moral compass, and once again, re-establish its leadership greatness – which is its tradition, history and legacy. The rangers deserve to be able to trust their leadership.
The final chapter of my book has yet to be written. The case is largely unresolved and it can still go many directions. I hope to write the final chapter in the next printing.