Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Suicides In Out National Parks Update

In response to a report from the Center For Disease Control and several reader questions I wrote several posts on suicides in National Parks.  In today's National Park Morning Report there is a brief accounting of three such incidents that occurred in Shenandoah National Park just this month.  Kudos and a well done go out to the Ranger Staff at Shenandoah for their intervention and saving of two lives while handling these incidents.

Taken from the June 14, 2011 NPS Morning Report

Shenandoah NP
Rangers Investigate One Suicide, Intervene In Two Others

Rangers successfully intervened in two suicide attempts this spring and
investigated a third in which a woman succeeded in her efforts by driving
her car off Skyline Drive and crashing several hundred feet below:

   On April 29th, a police dispatcher in Harrisonburg received a call from
   a man who said that he was camping on Turk Mountain and was going to
   shoot himself. Park dispatch was contacted and rangers helped the
   Harrisonburg dispatcher talk the man into leaving his weapon at his
   campsite and hiking to Skyline Drive to meet them. They took the man
   into protective custody at the trailhead and transported him to the
   Augusta Medical Center. They then recovered his weapon and all the items
   from his campsite. The man had been hiking the Appalachian Trail in the
   park for a week when he made the call.

   On May 17th, park dispatch was contacted by the sheriff’s office in
   Jefferson County, West Virginia, and advised that a man had called his
   wife and told her that he’d taken enough medication to be dead within 15
   minutes. Rangers determined that the 53-year-old man had registered at
   Skyland Lodge. When they reached his room, several hours after he’d
   called his wife, they found him unconscious in his room and suffering
   from severe respiratory distress. Basic and advanced life support
   measures employed by rangers and Page County rescue personnel greatly
   aided in keeping him alive.

   On June 2nd, a park maintenance crew working at Horsehead Overlook on
   Skyline Drive noticed that vegetation was laid down at the edge of the
   overlook and discovered a vehicle 300 to 400 feet below. Rangers found
   that the sole occupant had not survived the crash and that she had been
   listed as missing and suicidal by police in Farmville the day before. A
   suicide note was found inside along with notes indicating that she’d
   scouted other Shenandoah overlooks that night.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Man Convicted Of Murder On The Blue Ridge Parkway Sentenced To Life In Prison

Fifty-seven-year-old Ralph Leon Jackson was found guilty of the murder of Timothy Davis on the Blue Ridge Parkway in April of 2010.  Jackson will spend the rest of his life in prison.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Speed Kills Wildlife In National Parks

Here is a link to an interesting article about wildlife vs. vehicle collisions in National Parks.  

I know I spent a considerable amount of time conducting investigations and doing the paperwork resulting from such incidents.  All such collisions did not just affect park visitors.  We had quite a bit of damage done to government vehicles when they met deer on the road.  I had several years when my operating budget was depleted by body shop repair bills.  On the Blue Ridge Parkway it was not uncommon for deer to run into moving vehicles.  So it was not always the driver's fault.

Lower speeds do allow for more driver recognition and reaction time to brake and or avoid collisions with animals in the roadway.  These concepts apply to any driving route obstruction.  

In many instances visitors would loose control of their vehicle attempting to dodge an animal in the road.   If their speed was high the ability to regain control of the vehicle is more challenging and may result in hitting another object such as a tree, retaining wall, or side of a mountain.

Many years ago I sat in on a meeting at Shenandoah National Park.  Apparently there had been several vehicle collisions resulting from employees swerving to miss deer on the Skyline Drive.  The Chief Ranger was addressing the gathering of park rangers about this and in frustation stated, "The next time a ranger has a wreck because of a deer, I want that damn deer's body brought in."  I always wondered if they ever found that one deer that was causing all that mayhem.  


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Should Visitors Take Action When They Observe Violations In National Parks?

The National Park Traveler Blog posed the question as to whether park visitors should confront people they see committing violations of regulations in our National Parks.  You can see the full story at:

Here is my opinion on this question:

Making the decision as to whether or not to intercede when one observes violations in National Parks is a personal decision that should be made after fully assessing your situation.  Ask yourself some of these questions;

·         Is correcting the person worth placing yourself in possible danger?
·         Do you have communications to call for help?
·         Do you have an escape route so you can get out of the area in case the situation goes sour?
·         How many people are with the person committing the offense?
·         What is the demeanor of the offender and any companions – are they acting aggressive?
        Do the offenders appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs?

More than thirty two years as a National Park Ranger taught me that people are one of the most unpredictable of creatures in our parks.  You may be confident in yourself and abilities, but you know nothing about the person you are about to confront.  In the course of my career I found that people are increasingly becoming more volatile when their actions are questioned.
As soon as the person you have chosen to say something to presents any signs of defiance or aggressiveness, I would highly recommend leaving the area immediately.

Another alternative to taking action would be to make detailed observations of the offenders such as:

§  Complete and accurate description of what you observed
§  Physical descriptions of offenders
§  Clothing and outdoor gear that they have
§  Number and descriptions of companions
§  Specific location of where the offense occurred
§  Time of the offense
§  Descriptions including tag numbers of vehicle if involved
§  Direction of travel of the offenders if they left the area

As soon as possible report this information to a Park Ranger or other authorized person.

Park Rangers are few and far between and they always appreciate the assistance of additional eyes to protect our resources and your fellow visitors.  Most Park Rangers would also agree that they never want a park visitor to endanger themselves in this process.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Factors That Determine Tools Used By National Park Rangers

Although the core mission of all National Park Rangers is to protect park resources and visitors, the tools utilized to do the job may vary between parks.  I break down the factors that impact the types of duties performed by protection rangers in to several categories; Location, Size, Sensitivity of Resources, Staffing, and Visitation.

Location and Surrounding Environment
National Park areas that are located in or near centers of population require park rangers to concentrate their efforts on people more than resources.  National Parks in many ways are reflections of the communities that border them.  If you are working at Independence NHP in Philly you will be dealing with typical urban problems and threats including crowd control, large scale special events, possible terrorist attack, etc.  If you are working along the Mexican Border such as Organ Pipe Cactus NM you will be confronted by all the challenges and issues that accompany illegal aliens entering the country for a variety of reasons.

The types and frequency of crimes in the communities surrounding the parks also directly affect what happens within National Parks.  It was my experience that the crimes committed within the park were often an extension of the local area.  When dealing with violators within the park it was very common to find that these individuals also had past dealings with other local agencies.

Smaller historic sites in rural settings tend to be deceptively quiet and unthreatening.  The challenge for protection rangers in these areas may be to keep their skills sharp for those perhaps infrequent times when a serious incident can occur.  In very large areas such as in Alaska park rangers may not make as frequent or numerous contacts with visitors, but they are often alone without many options for back up. 

Sensitivity and Value of Resources
The intensity and importance of the resource to be protected can offset the expected intensity of the job.  A park ranger may be working in a small urban park but be responsible for the protection of some of our most important National Symbols such as the Liberty Bell or the Statue of Liberty.  Both of these sites are among those managed by the National Park Service that appears on the lists of potential terrorist targets.  Working in a park area that includes a nationally or internationally endangered species also raises the bar when looking at where a park ranger will concentrate their efforts and skills.

A park with a small protection staff will be limiting in the variety of law enforcement activities that a ranger can safely get involved in.  Time for conducting more complex or long term investigations will be hampered in areas with inadequate staffing.  This condition exists in most National Park areas.

A park that receives high levels of visitation normally pulls park rangers to dealing with more human related protection activities.  An example would be the Blue Ridge Parkway that receives the highest number of visitors per year.  Most of these visitors are concentrated on the main motor road that flows for 469 miles through the Southern Appalachians.  Park rangers there are often spending their time on traffic enforcement, drunk drivers, drug violations, and other people generated crime.  These at times life threatening situations make it difficult for park rangers to spend time in backcountry areas protecting natural and cultural resources.   A more remote area with lower visitation may allow for park rangers to concentrate more time on resource violations such as poachers, pot and relic hunters.

What duties and tools a park ranger will use to accomplish the job of protecting resources and visitors are much more complex than this simplification.  The conclusion is that the specific techniques and duties that park rangers perform can be diverse from park to park.

Park Ranger vs. Other Federal Law Enforcement Job Offer

I received an email from a reader facing a job choice dilemma.  He wants to be a Protection National Park Ranger and has signed up for a Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program (SLETP) course.  He has also received a conditional offer of a law enforcement job from another Federal Agency.  He would prefer to be a Park Ranger and is seeking some advice to aid him in his decision making process. 

I formulated a reply with several points he may want to consider when making a decision.

I can see your dilemma in the decision you may need to make.  I cannot say which way to go on this would be best for you, only you can determine that, but here are a few points to consider in your decision making process.

·         One of the most difficult aspects of getting a full time park ranger job is getting “Permanent Status” as a Federal employee.  Many people work for years as a seasonal employees with no benefits or job security trying to obtain that status.  Once you can achieve a permanent job, many doors will be open to you and pay and benefits will be more secure.

·         Permanent Status applies across the board with Federal Agencies.  Many people have worked as a seasonal employee with the National Park Service but then taken permanent jobs with other agencies just to get started on the permanent track.  Then once you are in you can later transfer to permanent positions within the National Park Service.

·         Transferring into the National Park Service from another agency would be enhanced if you have previous park ranger experience as a seasonal.  Any type of resource protection experience would improve your chances of competing for a park ranger job at a later date.

·         I do not know what agency has made you an offer, but you will want to know if it is a law enforcement position that is covered under Enhanced Law Enforcement Retirement  or what is commonly referred to as 6 (c ) retirement.  This would place the position in the same category as a protection National Park Ranger and once again make you administratively qualified for those positions.  A position covered by these retirement benefits would better enable you to transfer into other law enforcement jobs within the Government as they become available.

With the job offer that you now have being conditional, I would recommend that you go ahead with your plans to attend the Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program.  The knowledge and experience gained there would give you a head start on the basic training should you go with the other agency.
Hopefully this information will be helpful and I wish you luck in making your decision in your eventual chosen career path.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Two Men Sentenced For The Theft Of Plants In The Great Smokey Mountains National Park

As I have written on this blog in the past, the theft of resources from our National Parks is threatening native plant populations.  A well done goes out to the Ranger Staff at the Great Smokey Mountains National Park for the successful prosecution of two thieves stealing from us all.

The following information came from the National Park Service Morning Report for June 1, 2011.

Billy Joe Hurley, 42, and Jeffrey Hurley, 34, pled guilty in Federal Court to poaching charges for the illegal taking of American Ginseng within the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

Billy Joe Hurley was sentenced to 75 days in jail and fined $5,540 in restitution to the park for possessing 554 wild ginseng roots.

Jeffrey N. Hurley was sentenced to 14 days in jail and fined $2,510 in restitution to the park for possessing 251 roots. He has appealed his conviction.

In late October 2010, as part of an ongoing investigation, a
ranger apprehended the Hurley brothers in the North Carolina area of the park with over 11 pounds of freshly dug roots that had been poached in one day’s time. The roots were later aged by park biologists. They determined that most of the roots were at least 10 years old, but that some of the larger ones were 30 to 40 years old. Each man was charged with possession of plants/parts (harvesting ginseng). The offense carries a maximum misdemeanor penalty of up to six months in jail and/or fine of up to $5,000.

“Due to the high market value of ginseng, the illegal harvest of this plant continues to be a serious problem in Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” said Clay Jordan, the park’s chief ranger. “In the international and domestic legal trade market, wild ginseng can bring between $500 and $800 per pound of dried roots. The larger and older the root, the more profitable and valuable it is.”