The number of threats or assaults against federal employees who oversee public lands is on the rise.
According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, workers from the BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Forest Service were threatened or assaulted at least 360 times over the last five years.
The report highlights anti-government tensions that have at times boiled over – notably the incident at the Bundy ranch in 2014 in Nevada and the Wildlife Refuge in 2016 in Oregon.
The security review was requested by Representative Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and chair of the House Natural Resources Committee.
“We asked for the GOA report because after the Bundy takeovers this kind of activity had really, sincerely gotten out of hand,” Grijalva told KNPR's State of Nevada.
Grijalva said not enough is being done to track the kinds of harassing activities employees have endured. In fact, he said many people have stopped reporting when someone threatens or stalks them because there have been few consequences and some have come to accept that it is just part of the job now.
“What’s difficult is trying to reason with people in a collaborative way who basically don’t feel that government has a role and everybody who is part of it is part of the problem,” Grijalva said.
He believes a long-term goal of setting up collaboration and communication between agencies and local law enforcement is the best solution because it will allow small disputes over things like grazing areas and access roads to be worked out before they grow into a bigger problem.
Grijalva also thinks more needs to be done in the short-term to stop current harassment. His committee is pushing to allocate more money for law enforcement on public lands.
“When you don’t want to be reasoned with, we need to make sure public servants are protected and make sure the consequences to threats, even though the perpetrators think its right, that there’s consequences – legal consequences to it,” he said.
Grijalva also pointed out that philosophical disputes about how to manage public land have gone on for years but over the past few years the disputes have turned more dangerous because of rhetoric - some of it even coming from lawmakers - about federal employees being terrorists and anti-American.
He said everyone has a civic responsibility to be civil when discussing a topic.
“All that does is add to the problem and heightens the concerns that I have and other members of the committee have about the health and safety of our employees,” he said.
The congressman believes using that kind of anti-government, anti-public land rhetoric emboldens extremists and he believes the message is being pushed by people who want access to public land without any restrictions.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee
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