Threats and attacks against federal employees who protect public lands rose in 2012, an increase those employees partly attributed to more use of those lands for purposes related to illegal drugs, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility organization said Monday.
Data compiled by PEER show 591 incidents at six agencies combined, up from 427 in 2011 and the second-highest total since 2006, the first year in which it obtained figures from each. Incidents at the U.S. Park Police rose from 70 to 100, that agency’s highest number in that time, and the number at the U.S. Forest Service also jumped, by more than 100 to 419.
“Unfortunately, violence and abuse directed against public servants is becoming more common,” PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said in a statement.
PEER said that reasons for the increase include illegal drug laboratories and marijuana cultivation on public lands as well as deeper penetration of back country by off-road vehicles. It said the figures “do not show any clear pattern reflecting liberalized loaded firearm rules in national parks and refuges which went into effect in 2010.”
While incidents rose in 2012 overall, some were within the range of prior years. For example, the U.S. Forest Service total was up from just under 300 the two prior years, but was lower than the 427 in 2009 and nearly the same as in 2004.
PEER added that data reporting is “often not consistent or complete” among the agencies and that some reporting methods have changed over the years.