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Federal Watchdog: Public Lands Employees Face Hundreds Of Threats, Assaults

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Officials at two agencies told the GAO that many employees were traumatized by 2016's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation and some did not return to work, including some who transferred to other agency field units.

A new report from Congress’s watchdog says employees overseeing public lands are facing hundreds of threats and assaults.


The Government Accountability Office found that there were at least 360 assaults or threats on federal public lands employees between 2013 and 2017. That’s including workers at the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. The incidents ranged from phone threats to attempted murder, according to the report.

The Forest Service had the most incidents at 177 followed by the Bureau of Land Management’s 88. However, the report also noted that the number is an undercount. Many employees don’t report a threat because they see it as part of their job.

The GAO also found that most of these agencies hadn’t done required facility security assessments.

“Officials at the four agencies said that either they do not have the resources, expertise, or training to conduct assessments agency-wide,” the report said. “[The Fish and Wildlife Service] has a plan to complete its assessments, but BLM, the Forest Service and the Park Service do not.”

John Freemuth is a former park ranger now with the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University. He said threats aren’t new for public lands officials, but they do seem to be increasing.

“It is the nature of this business, and there’s a lot of misunderstanding, I think, that heats it up,” he said.

While he does think security threat training is important, he said it doesn’t have to come from the government. It could come from universities tasked with training public lands employees, he said, “rather than expect the federal government just to do it on their own after the fact.”

Ultimately, the GAO recommended that all public lands agencies create a plan to meet facility security assessments within their resources.

Find reporter Madelyn Beck on Twitter @MadelynBeck8

Copyright 2019 Boise State Public Radio

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.


I'm the regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau at Boise State Public Radio.