Federal Land Management Agency Field Law Enforcement Officers Per Million Acres

Thanks to Rich J. for pointing out this chart from this GAO report:

It definitely tells a story. Not a good one IMHO.  BLM land is important and conceivably people following the rules there is equally important.  And my observations on public land recreation is that many people don’t follow rules unless they think they might be enforced. It would be great to have a guest post from a BLM or FS field law enforcement person (or recently retired) and hear from them how to improve the situation.  If you have LE friends, please share this request.

11 thoughts on “Federal Land Management Agency Field Law Enforcement Officers Per Million Acres”

  1. Very timely post, considering the draft RMP for the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument just came out today. Looking at some of the things in there, I’m just shaking my head like how do they expect to enforce any of this.

    For example regarding drones, they are proposing to officially adopt the ridiculous policy the BLM snuck into one of its internal manuals a few years ago and consider drones OHVs during takeoff land landing, meaning they can only be launched from designated motorized routes. This is absurd on its face since many drones are hand launched, so does a person legally become an OHV when they are carrying a drone? And if that wasn’t bad enough, the BLM is proposing in a couple alternatives to only allow drones to be launched from roads in front country and passage management zones but not in outback or primitive zones. Like the general public is going to have read the monument RMP and has any clue what kind of management zone their in?

    How in the world do they intend to enforce these rules? Does the BLM really plan to issue citations for people flying drones in the wrong management zone, or for launching a drone from an open field 50 feet away from a road instead of while standing on the road itself, or from a hiking trail after carrying their drone in a backpack while hiking? Of course not, because the handful of law enforcement officers they have to cover the entire massive national monument have better things to do, and they’re certainly not going to be patrolling the backcountry looking for people launching drones from the wrong place. So why even bother making a rule if you never realistically plan to enforce it, and the rule itself is so facially absurd and difficult to understand that no one would ever follow it in the first place?

    Incidentally, the National Park Service has completely banned drones since 2014, and they have actually rigorously enforced that rule. I’ve read of NPS law enforcement agents combing YouTube for drone footage shot in national parks, and there was one story a few years ago when a NPS lEO tackled a drone pilot to the ground in a national park in Hawaii. But they have a very clear cut rule (no drones in NPS properties anywhere), they have a lot more LEOs, and most visitors to national parks congregate in the same places, so it’s a lot easier to enforce the rule. The handful of BLM LEOs covering GSENM have no chance.

    • Based on my one encounter with a drone pilot near a wilderness boundary, the information is readily available to tell them if they are in a closed zone. But I think you have made a good case for following the NPS example of “just saying no” for most areas with special designations.

      • Wilderness areas are a clear prohibition and most drone pilots know about those. Though notably the rules only prohibit launching and landing from within a wilderness area, not outside of it. So if the pilot you met was outside the boundary he was likely fine.

        Agreed though that the clearer the rules are the better. Generally, most drone pilots today understand the rules to be that you can fly anywhere on federal lands outside of wilderness areas and national parks (actually all NPS properties). Personally I think it should just stay that way. The more exceptions there are to that, the more complicated the rules get and the less compliance there is. I’m sure people who don’t like drones think they should just be banned on all federal lands, but that would take away a valuable and enjoyable activity that also enables protected first amendment expression, so I don’t believe that’s a good option.

        As for “special designations” there are way too many types of those for ordinary people to keep track of. Wilderness, national parks, and national monuments people can understand. But what about national recreation areas, national conservation areas, and the bazillion types of special management areas created by land management plans? And as management planning evolves, just about every inch of federal land is in some kind of special management area. Then you’re basically back at a complete prohibition everywhere.

        • I have to question applying the First Amendment to drone flying. It’s neither speech nor religion. And if drone flying is, then so is any other activity or behavior, and that ain’t so.

          • Drones are used primarily for photography, which is the creation of first amendment speech. There was a case in Texas recently where the court struck down laws regulating drone photography on first amendment grounds.

            Now land managers can regulate where drones can take off and land without running afoul of the 1st amendment, but if their goal is to restrict photography of certain places that’s unconstitutional. And even legal restrictions still impact photography.

            • I don’t think the goal we are talking about here would be to restrict photography – it’s the effect of drones on users of the specially designated land. First amendment rights to photography can be limited by the traditional “time, place and manner” considerations, as long as it is not content-driven. If this is the Texas case you are referring to, the court found the restrictions to be a content-based restriction on the freedom of the press. https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/texas-drone-law-unconstitutional-7734442/%20

              • I agree they’re not intended to restrict photography per se, but they still have the effect of restricting it. That’s legal, but still harmful.

                Also one interesting wrinkle, the FAA recently put out a fact sheet saying that local authorities can regulate takeoff and landing locations for drones, but that regulations that are so pervasive as to effectively prohibit all drone operations across large areas like entire cities would be preempted by the FAA because they effectively deny reasonable access to the national airspace. It’s an open question how that would apply to land use regulations by other federal agencies.

  2. It’s simple. The agencies and Congress put a premium on fire suppression, but not on law enforcement. In fact, efforts are often made to cut law enforcement from land management agencies. These agencies need more funding for their law enforcement programs and it needs to be specifically ear-matked for enforcement. Nothing else. Period.

      • I was fishing in Gold Beach and staying at a motel. So were at least two USFS Law Enforcement rigs. Project fire. 1000 people in fire camp. Likely need four law enforcement on site to have enforcement 24/7. Seasonally.

        So are they needed to watch USFS personnel or keep track of contract crews and equipment? I asked the Sheriff’s Marine officer of Curry county if they were involved in fire camp access road blocks and traffic control. The one death on this Bench fire was USFS traffic accident where USFS employed was killed. He said no. Feds have it all.

  3. I’m sitting here wondering if Region 5 has asked for a Type 1 overhead team to Maui.

    IMHO that is the greatest gift to our country, the disaster response of the effectively organized and trained over head teams for large fire events. They arrive with all they need to oversee and respond to the ongoing event and the aftermath.

    Certainly I know the logistics are seemingly impossible. I would proffer that the military has the air transport command fully able to get the needed infrastructure to there and to support it. Likely better than the State of Hawaii is prepared to do.

    I have read discussions of stateside disasters where they have been used. Hurricane Sandy in NYC and NJ. New Orleans after that hurricane disaster of yesteryear. First is the communications. Then a chain of command over specific areas of organized response. I can criticize the federal land managers about stuff that impacted my life, and fire camp can be a cat rodeo. Then you can see the difference after the arrival of a regional fire overhead team.

    I just believe the overhead teams just do a better job. Age is likely the driver. Tons and tons of experience not available in the military.


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