Washington, DC — As the federal criminal trials resume next week for militants who occupied Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge last year, federal refuge and range staff overwhelmingly feel their jobs are “more dangerous,” according to survey results released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Significant percentages of these federal refuge and rangeland staff also report facing threats and harassment related to “resource management” issues.
The PEER survey was sent to every national wildlife refuge manager in the country and to more than 2,200 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) range, fire, ecological and supervisory employees in nine Western states (AZ, CA, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT and WY).
Key survey results for wildlife refuges like Malheur include:
- One in five responding refuge mangers report that members of their families or staff “have been threatened or harassed in connection with resource management policies.” Nearly half of those who experienced these incidents say they were not “encouraged to report” them;
- Nearly two-thirds (63%) of managers feel refuge visitors are not as safe as they were five years ago even though a similar percentage agree that security-related spending is higher; and
- While most do not perceive added security as hurting refuge programs, three-in-four view resource protection as weaker than previously.
“The people in the best position to know say our nature preserves offer less sanctuary to nature and to its guardians,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that more than one-third of all refuge managers sent back surveys. “The legacy of the Malheur occupation seems to be that despite greater spending on security there is heightened insecurity for both visitors and refuge staff.”
More than four-in-five (82%) refuge managers view the Malheur acquittals as making “my job more dangerous.” A similar though smaller percentage (70%) of BLM respondents agree and indicate that –
- Nearly half (48%) of all employees and more than half (54%) of fire staff face “threats to our safety due to resource management issues.” In contrast to refuges, however, the vast majority (over 90%) say they are “encouraged to report threats or security concerns”;
- Significant percentages of natural and cultural resource specialists (24% and 20%, respectively) do not “feel safe when I am in the field”; and
- More than half (58%) of managers say “increased security costs are eating into BLM programs.”
One BLM scientist wrote “I regularly am afraid to go in public” while another urged the agency to “replace federal government license plates on vehicles with state license plates, so we are not easily identified in the field.”
“Although militias have not taken over BLM facilities, its employees reflect a siege mentality,” said Ruch, adding that PEER is now compiling all official reports of threats or violence directed against federal resource management agencies throughout 2016. “It is a sad state of affairs when federal botanists and archaeologists fear attack for doing their jobs.”