Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Theft From Our National Parks

Last month I gave a presentation for a Road Scholar Program held at Natural Bridge in Virginia.  The title of the presentations was "Stealing Our National Parks; One Piece At A Time."  In the audience were Wayne and Carla Anderson from Missouri.  They were so interested in the topic of wildlife, plant, and cultural resources from our Parks that they returned home and wrote an article in their regular column for the Columbia Tribune.

You can access the full article at;

Columbia Tribune Article

Learn more about Road Scholar Programs at;

Road Scholar

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Dwindling Park Ranger Ranks

Below is a link to an interesting article from the National Park Traveler website.

Due to the increasing retirement of law enforcement National Park Rangers, the number of Rangers in the parks are declining quicker than positions can be filled.  Budget restraints and sequester requirements are also contributing to this issue.

I remember in the early 2000's studies showing that the National Park Service was grossly under staffed in law enforcement.  At that time there were just over 1,500 permanent law enforcement park rangers in the entire system.  On the Blue Ridge Parkway a study revealed that a minimum of 50+ rangers were needed in this one park to be able to perform the job of protecting visitors and resources safely.  I recall that the terms used were related to working safely not efficiently or effectively.  At that time there were 32 positions within the park (2 being located at HQ) and the number has shrunk since then.

For some time managers were concerned with the issue of protection and staffing within our parks. The attacks of 9/11 and the fact that areas under National Park Service responsibility were considered potential terrorist targets resulted in a policy to fill any vacant law enforcement position as soon as possible.  These jobs were not to be lapsed to save funding.  With the advent of sequestered budgets and continuing resolutions year after year, managers have had no choice but to leave vacated positions unfilled for extended periods or in some instances abolished completely.

The possible future silver lining to this cloud is that the situation may lead to opportunities for those looking to join the Park Ranger ranks in the near future.  New budgets are including additional funding to hire seasonal law enforcement rangers in the parks next season.

I would hope that planning will also include filling of current vacant permanent positions and funding for additional park rangers in the higher use and incident areas of the country.  Although seasonal park rangers are essential in many parks, permanent positions result in higher and consistent levels of training and experienced personnel to handle the complexities of protecting our parks in the 21st century.

National Parks Traveler

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Dangers in National Parks

As I used to tell new and seasonal park rangers, "the one thing that most people do not pack for their park visits is their common sense."  Which leads to false senses of security.  Here are some examples of how a park visitor can get themselves in trouble fast.

‘Vacation brain’ can be dangerous for travelers in national parks

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Wildlife Officer Attacked in North Carolina

Even people stealing plants from public lands can become dangerous to Park Rangers and other Land Management Officers.  Here is an example from North Carolina.

“Charges in attack on wildlife officer upgraded to attempted murder”  -from a Greenville, SC news

Our Henderson County WRC officer was badly injured after an attack by two un-armed plant poachers.
He was investigating a “parked vehicle”

They: “beat Stronach in the head with a motorcycle helmet. Matthew Arold kicked Stronach in the head repeatedly,”

Hearsay from the neighboring state forest ranger:
Officer deployed his Taser on one, when the second jumped him and took control of the Taser.
The assailants then used the Taser 4-5 times on the officer while beating him. (not sure of that)
The officer maintained control of his firearm by laying on his holster side. (sounds very likely)

Not much locally, Asheville source WLOS: NC Wildlife Resource Officer Assault

Be safe guys! 
It’s not all about customer service, be alert!!

Stephen Tillotson
Park Ranger

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Reader's Story

I recently received this email from one of my son's friends who recently read A Park Ranger's Life. You never know the connections that can be made with our fellow humans.  I am humbled to think that the writer felt that reading my book influenced his decision to act with kindness and compassion in a way that may have defused a potentially escalating situation.

I found your insight into dealing with "crazy" people to be helpful in my own life: the other day I was riding on the Boston subway, and there was an agitated and dirty guy sitting in one of the seats. He seemed eager to talk to people in the subway car but everyone was ignoring him, myself included. When a stop came, the woman sitting next to him got off and no one took her seat, despite the fact that the car was packed to capacity. The look on his face clearly expressed that he felt like an outcast. At that point, I recalled the multiple instances in your book in which you mentioned that most people just want a little respect and recognition and that by giving them some respect they feel validated and relax. So, I worked my way over to the seat and sat next to him. We chatted a little bit about the Red Sox and he appeared to calm down. I took this as proof that your insight holds true, and so from now on I will try to extend a small tokens of respect to similarly upset people. 

It took some courage for this young man to step forward and extend himself to another.  We often never know what small and random acts of kindness can do.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Park Ranger EDU

A new resource was brought to my attention for those seeking information on pursuing a career as at Park Ranger.

Park Ranger EDU

This appears to be a one stop shop for finding out basic information and providing links to sites that provide more details for many agencies that employ Park Rangers.  I like the fact that this site provides access to each of the State Park Services giving the prospective applicant a full menu to research and choose from.

Check it out when you get a chance.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Another Nasty Invasive

Another Nasty InvasiveWe are continually battling multiflora rose here at Boxerwood and I’ll bet you are too, maybe without even knowing it.  This rose was introduced to the eastern United States in 1866 as a rootstock for ornamental roses. In the 1930’s, the U.S. Soil Conservation Service started using the rose for erosion control and as ‘living fences’ to control livestock.   More recently, the plant was used on highway median strips as a crash barrier and to reduce headlight glare (this is also how we got the notorious and ever-present Autumn Olive).  Multiflora rose is an aggressive (and the key word here is aggressive) large, multi-stemmed shrub with arching stems and recurved thorns. Small white or pinkish flowers bloom in May and small bright red rose hips form in late summer through winter.  The tips of the canes often reach the ground and root.  Here at Boxerwood, we have had multiflora rose climb thirty feet into trees.  Birds spread the plentiful seed everywhere.

How to eradicate it?  In fields, repeated cutting or mowing at the rate of three to six times over a period of two years seems to work. For smaller infestations, late in the season, cut the plant to the ground and paint the remaining stems with a systemic glyphosate herbicide such as Roundup.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Do You Miss Being A Park Ranger?

"Do You Miss Being A Park Ranger?"  I get asked this question a lot and there are many aspects of the job of a National Park Ranger I do miss.  What I do not miss is getting to meet people like the one described bellow that showed up at the Lodge in Crater Lake National Park.

What follows was taken from the National Park Service Morning Report and serves as an example of the types of problems park rangers have to deal with on a daily basis.  It is also an example or how you never know what you will run into each day.

Crater Lake NP
Man Arrested Following Violent Disturbance At Lodge
 Park dispatch was contacted by Crater Lake Lodge staff around 6 p.m. on July 10th and advised that a man was causing a disturbance at the service bar in the Great Hall, yelling at staff and visitors. 
 Chief Ranger Curt Dimmick responded. While en route, he learned that the man had begun throwing things from the bar, including pitchers of water, a sales computer, and a credit card printer.  He was subsequently advised that the man had also struck a visitor in the head with a crutch. 
 As he entered the Great Hall, Dimmick saw that the man, later identified as Donald Taylor of Medford, Oregon, was standing in front of the bar, leaning on a crutch and yelling obscenities at two employees. Taylor immediately turned to Dimmick, started advancing across the room with the crutch under his arm and began yelling “I am going to [expletive] kill you!  You are going to die tonight!” 
 Dimmick ordered Taylor to stop and get on the floor several times as he advanced, repeatedly yelling the same threats. When Taylor was only a few feet away and still refusing to stop, Dimmick used his taser to put him on the floor. Ranger John Neumann soon arrived and handcuffed him.
 There were about 50 visitors and Lodge staff present during the incident. Lodge staff had cleared most of the people from the Great Hall and secured the doors into the restaurant just beyond the bar to provide for the safety of guests while lodge and restaurant managers had kept Taylor occupied, waiting for rangers to arrive. 
 The man who was struck in the head with the crutch was a minister who had attempted to talk to Taylor and calm him down.  When the minister spoke to him, Taylor first tried to spit in his face and then swung his crutch at the minister’s head.  The minister ducked, but the crutch still hit the top of his head, causing a one inch laceration and contusion.  The minister declined medical treatment. 
 Rangers later located Taylor’s truck, which was parked immediately in front of the lodge in the loading zone.  Inside the truck were a loaded .22 caliber rifle and an unloaded 7 mm. rifle with two dozen rounds of ammunition.  
 Taylor was charged with assault, resisting or impeding an officer, disorderly conduct and vandalism. Taylor did approximately $2500 in damage to lodge property. On July 28th, Taylor pled guilty to all charges.  His sentencing is scheduled for September 2th. He has been in jail since the incident.
 The court has already ordered him to undergo a mental health evaluation. He told the judge he was having a bad day and had too much to drink after learning his ex-wife was trying to get sole custody of their son.
 Rangers had prior contact with Taylor. Last November, he entered the lodge after it was closed by entering a side door that may have been left unlocked. He spent the night with his dog in one of the lodge’s rooms, where he was found by concessioner maintenance staff the next morning. He was cited for trespass at the time.
 [Curt R. Dimmick, Chief Park Ranger]

Friday, January 31, 2014

Plant Theft In Our National Parks

Although I have been absent from this blog for some time due to my work as Managing Director at the Boxerwood Nature Center and Woodland Garden in Lexington, Virginia, I have been maintaining my attentiveness to what is happening in our Parks.

I was a bit concerned or perhaps even miffed when I discovered that the History Channel was introducing a new program entitled “Appalachian Outlaws.”  This series focuses on the lives of ginseng hunters working in the Southern Appalachians.  I could not help but think that this might increase the interest in “cash crops” and glorify those that pilfer these plants that grow wild on our protected lands.  I noted in the first episode of this series that one of the featured characters led the camera crew onto US Forest Service land to hunt ginseng illegally.  In one scene a Forest Service employee shows up and they have to run to escape.  That certainly added to the excitement and mystique of the show.

Ginseng has become hard to find in many areas.  On the show one of the characters states that this is the fault of the government putting so much land into protection as parks and forests.  During interviews with illegal ginseng hunters that were apprehended during my career we learned that they were moving to Virginia because you could not find ginseng in their states any more.  When asked why, their theory was that it was all hunted out in their home areas.  That is the impact on natural resources that these activities going unchecked can produce.

There are areas where hunting and collecting of ginseng is permitted and regulated in some instances by permits and seasons.  This legal activity is acceptable and approved by scientists and agencies.  The temptation of the money that could be made during our hard economic times fans the flames and intent of those willing to cross the line of legality and those forced by desperation to seek some profit.

I am not saying that what appears below is related to the new History Channel series, but does reflect what is happening in our parks.  This is an example of what is occurring and was taken from the National Park Service Morning Report dated January 31, 2014.

Cumberland Gap NHP
Six Ginseng Poachers Successfully Prosecuted
The fall ginseng season was busy at Cumberland Gap and rangers employed special shifts and focused patrols to combat poaching within the park. The government shutdown caused reduced staffing levels during the peak of the season, but rangers were able to apprehend six people and recover a total of 414 roots and one rattlesnake prior to the shutdown:  
  • August 19 – Rangers contacted two men on the Chadwell Gap Trail as they were about to be picked up at the trailhead. They were found with 18 and 78 ginseng roots respectively. Ranger Brad Cope was case agent.
  • September 15 – A man was observed capturing a rattlesnake on the Highway 58 road shoulder and being picked up by a vehicle.  Rangers stopped the vehicle, contacted the man, and discovered 11 ginseng roots in his pocket and the rattlesnake in the trunk. The vehicle’s occupants said that they had dropped him off at the Kentucky visitor center earlier in the day and that he had called them to pick him up in the Virginia section of the park.  Ranger Mike Ausmus was case agent.
  • September 23 – Rangers received information regarding possible digging in the Muddy Gut area of the park. They contacted two men who were found in possession of 39 and 37 ginseng roots respectively. Several of these roots in their possession were found to be marked with a dye and micro tags identifying them as coming from within the park. This was the first case since the park began its marking program in which marked ginseng was found on a suspect, positively identifying roots as taken from the park.  Ranger Ben Byrnes was case agent.
  • September 26 – Rangers received information regarding possible digging in the Old Baileytown Road area of the park. They contacted two men who were found in possession of 115 and 116 ginseng roots respectively. Ranger Greg Johnston was case agent.
 All six suspects pleaded guilty in federal court and were ordered to pay criminal fines totaling $1,295 and civil restitution to the park totaling $6,045.  All recovered ginseng roots were inventoried and replanted in the park by resource management personnel and will be monitored.   

[Greg A. Johnston, Park Ranger]