EDITOR: It’s a shame the El Dorado County sheriff had to strip Forest Service employees of state peace officer authority, but after numerous complaints of heavy-handed tactics by Forest Service law enforcement officers, the Forest Service left him no choice.
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Local Forest Service officials were well aware of the abusive and unacceptable conduct of law enforcement officers on the Eldorado National Forest. However, since the USFS law enforcement program is run out of the regional office in Vallejo, local USFS officials lacked authority to change policy or remove personnel engaged in such behavior.
In recent years, the USFS law enforcement organization has been staffed with individuals with little or no background in Forest Service land and resource management or experience in dealing with traditional forest visitors. They lack any sense of the Forest Service culture of “Forest” and “Service.” The special agent in charge’s comment that “these are not rangers, but uniformed patrol officers with a badge and gun” clearly illustrates this lack of understanding. To most forest visitors (unaware of bureaucratic distinctions) Forest Service law enforcement officers are “Forest Rangers” just like armed National Park Service employees are “Park Rangers.” Unfortunately, these new law enforcement officers are now the face of the Forest Service.
Forest Service law enforcement officers are now trained as police officers with the latest police tactics and law enforcement equipment. However, they lack the experience, background, and demeanor to deal with forest visitors in a positive manner. They view themselves as “police officers,” but lack the perspective and understanding that not every forest visitor is a “bad guy.”
The Forest Service needs to completely overhaul its law enforcement organization with managers and supervisors who have some experience in resource management and possess an understanding that law enforcement is a support function to the Forest Service mission of land and resource management.
Until the Forest Service can regain the public trust, the sheriff should continue to withhold state peace officer authority.
El Dorado Hills