Leadership Void Cripples Forest Service Law Enforcement
Official Investigation Uncovers Plague of Dysfunction Afflicting 20 Eastern States
Washington, DC — Law enforcement within our nation’s forests is severely undermined by horrendously poor leadership, according to a scathing internal investigation released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Documents reveal bungled law enforcement handling of arsons, timber thefts, drug trafficking and even homicides, rapes and assaults on U.S. Forest Service personnel.
The investigation focused on the U.S. Forest Service’s Eastern region (Region 9) covering twenty states stretching from Missouri to Maine and from West Virginia to Wisconsin. The April 2011 Report of Investigation by internal affairs specialists within the agency’s Albuquerque Service Center verified reports of poisonously low morale hampering regional law enforcement. The report interviewed 20 law enforcement officers and special agents who paint a grim picture with statements such as:
- Forest Service law enforcement “is a broken system from top to bottom”;
- Poor program leadership aggravates abysmal morale by its “lack of communication, lack of support, lack of direction and fear of retaliation”; and
- Regional law enforcement leadership is repeatedly referred to as “a black hole” suffering from a total “disconnect” with realities in the field.
“This is as damning an internal assessment as one can imagine yet the Forest Service has yet to take any steps to remedy the situation,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who obtained the report and its supporting materials through the Freedom of Information Act. “Characteristically, the response by law enforcement leadership is to keep the review’s results a secret in the vain hope that no one would notice.”
Declarations and memos from Forest Service rangers outline a numbing litany of serious incidents where law enforcement leaders either did nothing or outright impeded investigations. Examples include –
- Non-response to “epidemic” growth of drug operations, especially in the Great Lakes area. Besides marijuana plantations, officers report being unprepared to handle meth labs in the forests;
- Resource offenses, such as arson and timber theft, which sometimes are completely ignored; and
- Inaction in the face of reported homicides, rapes and assaults occurring within national forests.
“The attitude of Forest Service law enforcement leadership is that no news is good news, regardless of how bad things actually get,” added Ruch, stressing that virtually every officer interviewed referenced a deep fear of reprisal, using terms like “vindictive” and even “sinister” to describe regional leadership. “This report makes a compelling case for dramatically increasing the professionalism of law enforcement within the Forest Service – and that change needs to start at the top.”