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Why we need more rangers

Posted by Andrew Engelson at Oct 30, 2006 04:00 PM |

Pinnacle Lake TrailheadThis month's Washington Trails features a detailed article looking at the implications of the Pinnacle Lake murders. Even though the odds of a violent attack on a National Forest hiking trail is miniscule, the article makes clear that because of declining budgets, rangers are increasingly stretched thin in their duties. Law enforcement in places like the Darrington Ranger District remains a challenge, particularly because the number of law enforcement rangers is inadequate to the task. Budget cuts have decimated National Forest law enforcement.

According to a New York Times article published in July (full article by subscription only):

"...the number of rangers with police power has been nearly halved in the last decade, to 550 from more than 980 because of budget cuts and because some rangers have been assigned to other duties. There is now one law enforcement ranger for every 291,000 acres, or one for every 733,000 visitors, according to Forest Service figures."

The decline, when one considers the challenges--from violent crime to illegal ORV use, to rowdiness and drug-related crime--is simply unacceptable.

Jordan Fisher Smith, a former ranger and author of Nature Noir, thinks we're letting our National Forests become no-man's lands. In the Washington Trails article, he says

"We're leaving people to their own devices. And when you do that, you risk turning the land into a law-free zone"

What are your thoughts? Do we need more rangers, more law enforcement on our public lands?

Photo of Pinnacle Lake trailhead by Steve Spickard.