Think of all the dangerous beats assigned to federal law enforcement officers: tracking illegal arms sales, intercepting drug smugglers, guarding the nation's borders against foreign terrorists, apprehending kidnappers and fugitives, protecting the lives of potential assassination targets.
Now, guess which branch of federal law
enforcement is the most dangerous, in terms of the rate at which
its employees are assaulted or killed while on duty. Drug
Enforcement Administration? FBI? Customs Service? Border Patrol?
Logical answers, every one. But
wrong. The most dangerous federal law-enforcement job in the United
States is ranger for the National Park Service, according to the
Fraternal Order of Police, which cited Department of Justice
statistics in a letter sent two weeks ago to Interior Secretary
Gale Norton asking for an FBI inquiry into the matter. Signed by
Randall Kendrick, executive director of the group's U.S. Park
Ranger Lodge, the letter says the rate at which park rangers are
injured or killed while on duty is triple that of the Customs
Service, the next worst agency.
The assertion is
backed also by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a
national alliance of local, state and federal resource agency
employees, which recently released a report regarding attacks
against park rangers and other law-enforcement officers. According
to PEER, which obtained the figures through Freedom of Information
Act requests, incidents of violence, threats and harassment
directed at Park Service employees rose 940 percent between 2000
and 2001, from 10 incidents to 104.
released a report asserting that bombings, shootings, beatings and
arson directed at employees and facilities of the Forest Service,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management rose
dramatically last year. National forest incidents rose 136 percent,
from 33 in 2000 to 78 last year. Incidents at wildlife refuges rose
22 percent. Those involving BLM employees increased only 4 percent,
but they were far more likely to be violent in 2001 than the year
PEER has been trying since 1995 to draw
attention to the threats faced by federal workers, and some of the
increase may stem from better reporting as well as from an increase
in the number of people visiting public lands. This year, however,
the report comes amid dramatically heightened sensitivity to
threats against symbols of American culture and identity. The lack
of political reaction underscores the hypocrisy that quickly
emerged from the sorrow of Sept. 11.
weeks after the terrorist attacks, grief gave way to anger and then
to cynical grandstanding as politicians tried to capitalize on
public passion to press private agendas. One of the leaders of this
campaign was Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., who chairs the House
Resources Committee's Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health. He
quickly convened a congressional hearing on "eco-terrorism." The
subcommittee issued a subpoena for a representative of the Earth
Liberation Front, which has claimed responsibility for several
well-publicized incidents "- most notably the $12 million arson
fire in 1998 at a ski resort in Vail, Colo. "- and invited an FBI
terrorism expert to testify about the danger such groups pose to
destruction, which is what all documented incidents of
"eco-terrorism" so far have involved, seldom accomplishes much and
has been condemned by mainstream environmental groups, it remains a
legitimate target of investigation. Some of the incidents
documented by PEER may have involved environmentalists trying to
stop timber sales and similar federal actions, and others were
garden-variety crimes lacking any political dimension.
But many of the attacks appear to have been
committed by people angered by any federal constraint on their
private use of public lands. So where is the inquiry into this
terrorist campaign of fear and intimidation apparently being
directed against federal employees for protecting America's
forests, parks and grasslands?
Why hasn't the
FBI created a task force to examine "property-rights" groups that
deny the legitimacy of federal regulations and demonize those who
enforce them? Why have there been no congressional subpoenas for
lawmakers who indirectly encourage such attacks with rhetoric about
the "war on the West" being waged by government agencies enforcing
environmental laws that affect ranchers, farmers and loggers?
Americans have learned many hard lessons in the
past year. One is that there are desperate people in the world who
will do almost anything to advance their political agendas. Another
is that such people sometimes hold public office in this country.