Washington, DC — Attacks and threats against U.S. Forest Service employees and National Park Service rangers reached an all-time record in 2009, according to agency incident reports released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This spike in violent incidents reflects growing danger to both staff and visitors on federal lands.
Agency incident reports, obtained by PEER through the Freedom of Information Act, document increasing lawlessness in remote public lands where people go to get away from urban ills:
- The National Park Service (NPS) recorded 158 attacks or threats on its law enforcement rangers, more than triple the 36 such incidents it reported for 2008 and nearly 50% above its previous record year of 2004. These numbers are understated, however, as the agency only records assaults against its law enforcement staff and not those directed against other workers and these numbers do not include assaults on the U.S. Park Police, an urban police force largely based in D.C;
- The U.S. Forest Service logged 427 violent incidents in 2009, a 33% jump from the year before and the greatest number ever recorded. This is also the fourth straight annual increase; and
- The U.S. Bureau of Land Management reported only a slight increase in incidents but surveys of its law enforcement rangers by PEER indicate a strong sentiment that the influx of violent elements with off-road vehicles (ORVs) presents a new major threat on recreational desert lands.
Incidents ranged from murders to sexual assaults to break-ins of government buildings. Drugs and alcohol appeared to play a role in a large number of incidents. These figures do not reflect the effects of liberalized firearm rules in national parks and refuges which went into effect earlier this year.
“These numbers suggest that the challenges facing national park and forest workers have never been greater,” said PEER Staff Counsel Christine Erickson who obtained and compiled the agency incident reports. “They say ‘it’s not easy being green’ but deteriorating public treatment of federal land management staff make that statement truer today than ever before.”
PEER has maintained a database of incidents against federal resource employees since the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The U.S. Justice Department stopped tracking assaults on federal employees back in 2002, after it persuaded Congress to repeal a reporting requirement for such incidents.
“We remain mystified that the Justice Department does not deem attacks against federal workers a high enough priority to even monitor,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that DOJ does have a program devoted to animal rights groups but no program on threats against environmental workers. “Our concern is that surging anti-government rhetoric may be playing a role in this rising tide of violence.”