Attacked On All Sides, The Stress Of Being A BLM Ranger


(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Ammon Bundy, son of rancher Cliven Bundy stands outside Metropolitan Police Department headquarters, Friday, May 2, 2014 in Las Vegas. Bundy was in town to file a criminal complaint against the Bureau of Land Management

The federal Bureau of Land Management controls 63 percent of the land in Nevada, part of the 85 percent of the state that is owned by the federal government.

For that reason, the BLM has held a powerful seat in Nevada politics and, to a big degree, has been at the forefront of development in Southern Nevada.

But that relationship has long chafed many in the state, particularly among some rural residents. The 2014 standoff with Clark County rancher Cliven Bundy was a prompted by BLM enforcement of grazing restrictions that affected Bundy’s cattle.

The BLM, however, hasn’t just had to contend with angry ranchers in recent years. Its rangers have also been threatened by arrest from western sheriffs. 

Kirk Siegler, national correspondent for NPR, spent time with BLM rangers to see what they do, and how they deal with the pressure.

For all the attention the BLM gets, he noted, there are fewer than three dozen rangers to watch millions of acres of land in Nevada. But the events of the last few years are never far from their minds.

Just recently, the bureau told residents near Bunkerville, where the Bundy Ranch standoff happened, that it would be returning its people to the area. 

“For more than a year, the Bureau of Land Management pulled their rangers, pulled their soil scientists, pulled all field staff out of a good portion of Southern Nevada because it wasn’t safe,” Siegler said.

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Siegler said the BLM and other federal agencies in the West have seen a spike in harassment and intimidation. He said he felt a sense "trepidation" and "anxiety" from agents. 

Even before the standoff in 2014 and the one earlier this year in Oregon, there has been friction between the bureau and the people who use the land. Siegler said that tension can really be traced back to the bureau's mission.

“Their mission is inherently controversial," he said, "They are meant to balance multiple use.”

The BLM is supposed to foster energy development while at the same time preserving the land. It is also supposed to manage agriculture while it protects plant life.

“Often those missions are in conflict with each other,” he said. “Public land is open to all of us. It’s just that when you get right down to it what you can do on that land is sometimes being restricted and that’s what the fights are over”

Despite the disputes that have made national news, most of what the bureau does isn't really controversial in anyway, Siegler said. And he said many bureau officials are frustrated that they have not been able to get the message of what they really do out because of the "political nature of the armed standoffs that have occurred here in Nevada.”


Kirk Siegler, national correspondent, NPR

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