The Growing War on Federal Land Officers No One Is Talking About

Law enforcement officials working for the four federal land management agencies faced 360 incidents of threats and assaults in the five-year period between 2013 and 2017, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Nearly half of the incidents involved officers employed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

According to the GAO report, USFS employees were subject to 177 threats and assaults. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officers were threatened or assaulted 88 times, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) employees suffered 66 threats or assaults and 29 officers with the National Park Service (NPS) were threatened or assaulted.

The four agencies are responsible for law enforcement on nearly 700 million acres (about 1.1 million square miles) of federal lands, primarily in the western United States.

During the four-year period, the FBI initiated less than 100 “domestic terrorism investigations” into threats to federal land management agencies. The majority of the FBI investigations involved incidents with BLM officers and the majority “involved individuals motivated by anti-government ideologies.”

The GAO also noted that the four agencies have conducted required security evaluations at some, but not all, of their occupied facilities and that only the FWS has a plan in place to complete its assessments. The FWS has conducted five facilities assessments at its approximately 465 facilities and has developed a plan to have private contractors conduct the rest.

The BLM has conducted assessments at 21 of approximately 280 facilities, the USFS has completed at least 135 assessments at approximately 1,135 facilities, and the NPS has assessed at least 148 of its approximately 1,505 facilities. None has a plan or schedule to evaluate their remaining facilities. The four agencies cited reasons including lack of resources, training and expertise for failing to meet the required assessments.

According to the AP, the security review was requested by Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, who criticized the appointment of BLM acting director William “Perry” Pendley, a former property rights attorney who, prior to his appointment in July, “lambasted” federal authorities, warning of another “Sagebrush Rebellion” if the federal government did not loosen rules on development of federal lands in the western United States.

Following the enactment of the Federal Land Policy Management Act in 1976, federal policy was changed from maximizing extracting value from public lands to one of preserving the land. The most recent flare-up of the dispute was the 2016 occupation and armed standoff at Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The six-week-long event cost more than $9 million in damage to land and facilities and for additional staffing by state, local, and FWS law enforcement agencies.