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Violence against U.S. park rangers is up

WASHINGTON -- National park rangers, wildlife refuge workers and U.S. Park Police experienced more assaults and threats from visitors last year than in 2011, according to a group that represents federal resource workers.

A total of 591 incidents were reported by six federal land and water agencies in 2012, up 38 percent from the previous year, the group says. More than one-quarter of the incidents involved violence against the employee, said the report by the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

More than half of 100 reported incidents against U.S. Park Police involved violence, according to the report, including one where a suspected drunken driver tried to run over a police officer.

The report, to be released Monday, is based on figures obtained from the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies. The Associated Press obtained a copy in advance.

Last year began with the New Year's Day shooting death of a ranger at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state. He was the first ranger killed in the line of duty in a decade. That same month, a note was a left at a Texas wildlife refuge visitor center that included racist remarks and a threat to burn down the center, the report said. In September, someone took a shot at a land management worker driving an agency vehicle at an Arizona recreation area.

Other incidents include assaults on law enforcement officers, resisting arrest and threats of violence, including at least one that resulted in a court-imposed restraining order.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of the public employees group, said the report shows that incidents of violence and abuse directed against rangers and other federal employees are becoming more common. "The saying 'It's not easy being green' is becoming truer with each passing year," said Ruch.

Conflicts over federal land-management policies, growing use of public lands for meth labs and marijuana plantations, and deeper penetration of remote backcountry by off-road vehicles were among reasons cited.

The U.S. Park Police experienced a 43 percent jump in assaults and threats.

Long Island is home to two sites operated by the National Park Service -- Fire Island National Seashore and Sagamore Hill National Historic District.

Sagamore Hill Superintendent Thomas Ross said he has not seen problems with violence at his site. The district uses interpretive park rangers who give tours, but does not have any law enforcement officers. "I haven't seen any issues of this type," Ross said of the study's results. "I don't know of any in the last year, or couple of years, on my staff."

The figures do not show a clear pattern reflecting rules that allowed loaded firearms in national parks and refuges starting in 2010, Ruch said. The public employees group opposed the law, saying it could increase dangers for rangers and visitors.

With Colleen Jaskot

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