Sept. 12, 2002 – While no Virgin Islands National Park rangers have been killed or injured in the line of duty, as they have been elsewhere in the park system, it could happen, Chief Ranger Steve Clark said Thursday.
Three years ago, a ranger at Puukohola Heiau National Park in Hawaii was murdered. "It's a park that's smaller and quieter than this one," Clark said.
He said that when the ranger confronted a man on the beach whose dogs were bothering visitors, the man told the dogs to attack. When the ranger fought back with a chemical spray aimed at the dogs, the man grabbed the ranger's gun and shot him once in the shoulder and four times in the head.
Then, a couple of years ago, a man brandishing a gun at tourists on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia shot and killed a ranger who drove up to help the tourists. "As the ranger got out of his vehicle, he shot him in the throat," Clark said, noting that the ranger, the father of twins, was killed on Father's Day.
And in August, a ranger at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona was gunned down while helping border officials track a Mexican fugitive.
At the park on St. John, rangers often deal with situations that could turn similarly tragic. However, Clark said that because the park is short staffed, rangers do not routinely patrol late at night because they have no backup. "But I believe there's stuff going on out there at 2 a.m.," Clark said.
According to study findings released this week by the not-for-profit group Public Employees Responsibility, the number incidents of violence directed against National Park Service personnel this year is nine times what it was last year — 104 incidents. By contrast, the study found, other federal agencies saw much smaller increases. Incidents against U.S. Forest Service employees doubled, to 78 incidents. Those against U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel rose by 22 percent, to 11 incidents. And at the Bureau of Land Management, an increase of 4 percent was recorded.
The incidents included threats, punches, shootings, bombings and arson.
Jeff Ruch, director of Public Employees Responsibility, attributes the increases to better reporting and to the increasing amount of land under federal control. In a release, he said the statistics included some incidents dealing with belligerent drunks or poachers and others in which rangers were seen as symbols of the government, and therefore targets, by people who object to federal policies on public land.
Dennis Burnett, acting chief ranger of the National Park Service, said in the release that he could not explain the ninefold increase. U.S. Justice Department statistics confirm that park rangers are assaulted more often on a per capita basis than other law-enforcement officials. Last week, the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police asked Interior Secretary Gale Norton and the FBI to launch a study to find out why.
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