Scores of Western public-land rangers are no longer at their regular jobs, patrolling rangeland for illegal off-road activities or investigating endangered species smuggling. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, rangers from the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service have been assigned to guard federal buildings in Washington, D.C., and to serve as temporary airline sky marshals. Law enforcement personnel will still protect public lands, resources and their users, acting BLM director Nina Rose Hatfield told agency employees in an Oct. 17 memorandum, but "national security is now their top concern."
The action was not officially announced, and officials will not discuss enforcement gaps it might leave in Western states.
"We're working hard to cover our bases, but that's all I can say," says Hugh Vickery, an Interior Department spokesman.
Many public-land agencies were already understaffed, and some worry that Western wildlife and land may now go unprotected, says Karen Schambach of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "We've been concerned about the lack of numbers in the field for a long time now. So there's a concern if they're taking even more people away from agencies that are already understaffed."
Copyright © 2001 HCN and Michael Milstein