For Immediate Release: Jun 13, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
BLM Rangers Stretched to Breaking Point
Prosecutions Plummet as Authorized Law Enforcement Slots Remain Unfilled
Washington, DC — The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for protecting resources and visitors across one of every ten acres across the U.S. with fewer rangers than it had five years earlier, according to figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At the same time, the number of criminal environmental cases coming out of BLM and other Interior agencies has fallen by half since 2016 to a more than 20-year low and last year saw the lowest number of new prosecutions since 1995.
The latest figures released by BLM under the Freedom of Information Act show only 202 rangers on the beat during 2017. That number, while a small uptick from the past three years, is well below the 224 rangers on patrol in 2012. In addition, of the 254 authorized ranger positions, fully a quarter remain unfilled.
With an estimated 70 million recreational visits this year, each BLM law enforcement ranger is now tasked with safeguarding some 35,000 recreational visitors on average, annually, over an area approaching the size of Delaware. BLM rangers undertake search and rescue operations and are charged with investigating or deterring a wide range of resource offenses, including wildland arson, hazardous materials dumping, archaeological artifact theft, among other matters.
In addition to law enforcement rangers, BLM currently deploys 70 special agents, used primarily as detective-level criminal investigators, which is again a slight recent increase but represents the same agent force level that BLM had 25 years prior in 1992. Significantly, one fifth of the authorized agent slots remain vacant.
At the same time, more BLM lands are being opened for more uses as President Trump tries to shrink national monuments. Meanwhile, BLM’s border responsibilities are expanding as rangers and special agents are assigned to assist the U.S. Border Patrol. BLM already manages nearly 200 miles of lands directly along the Mexico border.
“BLM law enforcement rangers patrol one-tenth of the country’s land area with a force smaller than those of many mid-sized cities,” stated PEER Board Member Ed Patrovsky, who spent 28 years as a law enforcement ranger, mainly for the National Park Service and BLM, noting that in the upcoming FY 2020 budget, the Trump administration requested no increase for BLM law enforcement. “There are simply not enough rangers to do the job effectively. In addition, many are absent from their assigned patrol areas for weeks at a time, due to frequent border and drug enforcement details. When they are away, there usually is nobody to fill in for them.”
One effect appears to be fewer criminal cases relating to Interior resource protection brought and prosecuted in a generation, according to Justice Department figures compiled by PEER.
“America’s natural resource heritage is at a growing risk of being looted with fewer cops on the beat inside agencies that are starving by attrition,” added Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that BLM’s law enforcement represents only around 3% of agency staff – a workforce that has also been shrinking in recent years. “While there is growing attention to the infrastructure gap for capital improvements on national parks and other federal lands, we also need to start looking at the escalating human capital needs of these land management agencies.”