New data from an advocacy group shows national forest and rangeland employees are facing increased assaults and threats. What’s behind the spike in the numbers?
The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) reports that violent incidents on rangelands overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) increased 87% in 2015. Violent incidents against the U.S. Forest Service increased 60% last year.
Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director, said security is a rising concern for scientists and other specialists working in western outposts. Ruch added that higher law enforcement costs to protect national forest employees are thinning agencies’ budgets and leading to the closure of some refuges.
PEER noted that the data covering the year after Cliven Bundy, a Nevada cattle rancher, engaged in a standoff with the BLM over unpaid grazing fees. In February 2016, Bundy was arrested by the FBI. He faces federal charges for the standoff, and his case will go to trial next year.
PEER called Bundy a “renegade” in a press release and referenced his and others’ “nullification” ideology that contests federal ownership of national refuges, rangelands and forests.
Ruch said in the press release:
“These right-wing militias constitute a real public safety threat, especially on federal lands in the Sagebrush West. By studying the patterns of these events, perhaps managers can begin to defuse or prevent confrontations over federal lands.”
According to PEER, some of the reported incidents against BLM included:
- telephone threats against employees
- physical assaults
- intimidation/threats at public meetings
- a threat against a BLM contractor where a gun was shot in the air, and
- a threatening email.
PEER has maintained a database of incidents against federal resource employees since the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City. Most of the agencies didn’t track this information when PEER started submitting Freedom of Information Act requests, but now all maintain some data.