New data released on violent threats to federal employees

Documents show 15 incidents in 2014, but don't account for the Cliven Bundy standoff.

 

Last week, while in Nevada for a Western Governors’ Association event, Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell promised that scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy will be held accountable for his unlawful actions. Bundy has been allowing his cattle to graze illegally in southern Nevada on and off for decades, and land near his ranch was the site of an armed standoff in April 2014 between his states’ rights-oriented supporters and federal officials and contractors.  

“Cliven Bundy has had multiple court orders to remove his cattle from federal public lands and he has not paid his grazing fees and he has not abided by the law,” Jewell told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We will continue to pursue that.” 

This statement echoes what she and other officials have said over the past 14 months, though the rancher and most of his supporters who pointed guns at the feds that day have seen no legal repercussions. Earlier this month, six anonymous gunshots were fired on public land near the camp of three Bureau of Land Management contract researchers from the Reno-based nonprofit Great Basin Institute who were monitoring water in the Gold Butte area, near the Bundy Ranch. The BLM has said it would take extra precautions in the area as a result.

Environmental groups that are concerned about the impact of grazing say that by allowing ranchers like Bundy to let livestock graze illegally in sensitive habitat encourages others to do the same, to the detriment of ecosystems. At least three green organizations, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and Oregon Wild, have now partnered with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the Southern Poverty Law Center and others to create the Ballots not Bullets Coalition. The Coalition launched in May, around the time that the conservative militia-type organization Oath Keepers and others, including two Bundy family representatives, gathered in southern Oregon to support gold miners in a dispute with the BLM.

There’s a long history of violence toward federal public lands officers, as was evident in the results of last year’s High Country News investigation on the topic. And since 1995, the nonprofit watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has compiled annual reports of such cases that involve BLM officials. Last week, they released their 2014 report, which included 15 incidents involving BLM officers. Despite the Bundy fracas, it was the lowest number since 1996.

Incidents of violence or intimidation reported by the BLM. PEER collected this data through Freedom of Information Act requests.

The new data include only two incident reports related to the Bundy standoff, including: “Threatening phone call in connection with Gold Butte operation.” Reports of the Bundy supporters pointing guns at federal officers during an impoundment of the rancher’s cattle did not make the list. Other BLM documents that PEER acquired in April indicate that there were many threats during and following the impoundment and standoff. This contradiction raises the question of how many other incidents the BLM has left off this list in previous years.

Last fall, HCN published a map of reported incidents involving BLM and U.S. Forest Service employees, which we’ve republished below. Click on each point to get a link to the actual incident report. The map now includes PEER’s newest data from 2014. Though the new data doesn’t include actual incident reports, it does give some details as to the nature of the threat or violence.

Information provided by US Department of Interior and BLM to PEER, in response to a FOIA request for incidents that took place in 2014.

If you are a public lands agency federal employee and have been the victim of a threat or assault, you can share that information with HCN here

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Tay Wiles is the online editor of High Country News.