Sacramento - Days after a Bureau of Land Management Ranger was run down by a vehicle at Imperial Sand Dunes over the Thanksgiving weekend, BLM rangers filed an OSHA complaint, alleging unsafe working conditions. The complaint follows years of unsuccessful efforts by the Rangers to prod their agency into hiring additional rangers and purchasing a functioning communications system.
The Thanksgiving mayhem at the Dunes capped nearly a decade of escalating violence at the popular off-road area. In addition to the ranger who was injured by the vehicle, two others were pinned down by an angry mob and unable to call for assistance because of radio traffic from nearby Mexico. Rangers say communications problems were made worse when San Bernardino Sheriff Gary Penrod cancelled a memorandum of understanding that included allowing BLM rangers to use that county's radio system. Rangers depend largely on cell phones, which get poor reception in much of their patrol areas.
"I think we need to get Gale Norton and some Congresspersons out there over New Year's weekend to see the mayhem for themselves. Let them tell those Rangers they have to wait 5 more years for more rangers and a decent communications system" said Karen Schambach of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
A survey by PEER this summer corroborated an internal BLM Special Law Enforcement report on the California desert. Both BLM and PEER found that the public lands have become unsafe for both rangers and family recreation. Findings of the PEER survey included:
· Nearly three out of four (73%) say BLM lacks funding and personnel to fulfill its resource management mission.
· More than seven out of ten rangers (71%) say their radio system is inadequate to ensure officer safety in the field; and
· 79% of rangers say BLM has inadequate funding and personnel to protect the public.
Ranger numbers will drop further as they are syphoned off to serve as air marshals and as guards at the Department of Interior in Washington, DC BLM Rangers are also expected to provide law enforcement at the Winter Olympics.