Terror in National Parks

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In post-September 11 America, we have learned not only a lesson of devotion to country, but a lesson of love. Family and friends anchor us to a kind and caring home and community life. Let’s hope this will stop us from hurting each other, even when we feel righteously indignant or frustrated. Guns in the hands of the uncontrolled too frequently kill individuals; arsonists still start fires; vandals still destroy or steal property. These serious acts of intimidation are often impulsive, not planned. They are rightly inexcusable in the eyes of the law.

In the Southeast last fall, young people started scores of fires that took at least one life and put hundreds of firefighters at risk. They burned thousands of acres of trees and forced many people to leave home. The youngsters were asked why they started the devastation. "We were bored," they said. "There’s nothing to do around here."

Adults can be as bad or worse. Look at attacks in the national parks that belong to us all. Park rangers sometimes put their lives on the line to protect our property. National Parks and Conservation magazine points out that fugitives hide out in some parks: recently, rangers spent twelve hours trying to find two fugitives in Yellowstone, wanted for crimes committed in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Three anti-government drifters in Death Valley National Park brought down a police helicopter with gunfire. In Hawaii, a park ranger who responded to a call about dogs running loose in a park was shot to death.

Persons who disagree with park protection plans have burned down rangers’ stations, and rangers have been threatened and injured. The plans include such items as reducing noise pollution or trying to stop theft of artifacts and valuable plants like ginseng and ancient cactuses.

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a national alliance of federal, state and local employees, released a study in August showing that violence against federal land management people rose sharply in the year 2000. The Wildlife Service and Forest Service reported crime increases of 22% to 50% in the year 2001. And from 1996 to 2000, threats, vandalism, assaults and shootings involving park rangers and park police had already risen.

We have 1,550 park rangers. The National Association of Chiefs of Police says 600 more are needed to stop us Americans from spoiling our parks. A study sponsored by GOP Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming says 1,200 new rangers are needed.

At the Southwestern border, a rise in drug trafficking and illegal immigration requires two or three times the usual number of rangers. At Organ Pipe Cactus Park, the chief ranger says every one of his rangers has been assaulted by a vehicle at least once, some twice. Rangers are chased by speeding cars involved in transporting illegals into or out of the country.

This is Ruth Page, reminding us that the rangers protecting our national parks sometimes risk their lives, trying to protect our property.

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