U.S. Army Corps of Engineers



   Perhaps the most obscure of all the Federal land management agency law enforcement programs is the park rangers of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE)(COE in historic documents).  This program developed in a rather isolated manner and today remains unique in that the agency does not authorize arrest authority for its park rangers and they are not permitted to carry or wear firearms.  Yet, the USACE is Nation's number one provider of outdoor recreation with more than 368 million visits annually to 4,485 sites at 423 Corps projects (383 major lakes and reservoirs).  This means that they must serve and regulate a body of recreation visitation that exceeds that of the National Park Service. Yet, the Park Service has a force of full-time law enforcement rangers to handle a smaller workload!


   Although, recreation management law enforcement is a fairly recent development (compared to the other Federal land management agencies), the USACE has had authority to designate employees with the authority to make arrests for violations of laws that relate to the protection of navigable waterways since enactment of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899.


   The USACE was granted the authority to issue recreation use regulations through the Flood Control Act of 1944 (Act of December 22, 1944).  It authorized regulations with criminal penalties as follows:


The water areas of all such projects shall be open to public use generally for boating, swimming, bathing, fishing, and other recreational purposes . . . all under such rules and regulations as the Secretary of the Army may deem necessary including but not limited to prohibitions of dumping and unauthorized disposal in any manner of refuse, garbage, rubbish, trash, debris or litter of any kind . . . Any violation of such rules and regulations shall be punished by a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.  Any persons charged with the violation of such rules and regulations may be tried and sentenced in accordance with the provisions of section 3401 of Title 18.


   This authority created a situation where violation of the regulations were potentially an “arrestable” offense.  This authority was substantially no different that what was authorized to the Secretary of the Interior for criminal regulations on the forest reserves in 1897.  The General Land Office had used such authority to start their law enforcement program through the appointment of forest reserve rangers in 1898.  Logic follows that when an agency has a responsibility for criminal enforcement (through its regulations) that the agency moves towards creating a program to fully enforce (with arrest authority) the said regulations. However, in the case of the USACE, no such efforts would be made for another 26 years.


   But when it comes to enforcement workload, the USACE was in a category of “build it and they will come!”  As the construction of dams led to impoundment of lakes (reservoirs), an attraction for aquatic recreation was created. Further, often there were required mitigation measures such as creation of recreational facilities like boat ramps, swimming beaches, picnic areas, and campgrounds.  Couple this with the post-war boom in population growth and subsequent recreational demands and it begins to create an enforcement workload.


  According to USACE Park Ranger, Bill Jackson, the Nashville District had a number of rangers in the late 1950s and 1960s commonly called "Reservoir Rangers."


  It would be an amendment to the Flood Control Act of 1970 that sort of kick started the USACE’s park ranger program.  That law authorized designated USACE employees to issue citations for violations of USACE recreation use regulations.  Further the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 authorized designated USACE employees to make arrests for violations of regulations related to fee collection.  So their initial sets of law enforcement authority were not all that different from what the other Federal land management agencies had started with.  Yet after over 40 years little has been done to expand the authority of USACE park rangers and in fact the COE has continued to restrain any evolution of their law enforcement program towards that practiced by the other Federal land management agencies.


   The amendment to the Flood Control Act in 1970 provided:


All persons designated by the Chief of Engineers for that purpose shall have the authority to issue a citation for violation of the regulations adopted by the Secretary of the Army, requiring the appearance of any person charged with violation to appear before the United States Magistrate, within whose jurisdiction the water resource development project is located, for trial; and upon sworn information of any competent person any United States magistrate in the proper jurisdiction shall issue process for the arrest of any person charged with the violation of said regulations; but nothing herein contained shall be construed as preventing the arrest by any officer of the United States, without process, of any person taken in the act of violating said regulations.


   In the normal course of legislative development, the agency is usually requested by the Congress to draft enabling legislation or give indications of the authority they are requesting.  The granting of “citation” only authority was somewhat aberrant language for this sort of purpose and must have been by design and intent of high level Department of the Army officials.  In the era immediately prior to 1970, both the National Park Service and the Forest Service had by practice, been running “citation only” type law enforcement programs and this may be where the idea came from.  But the underlying authority for the law enforcement programs in both the National Park Service and the Forest Service arises from the Act of February 6, 1905 which granted arrest authority (note that there was no such thing as Federal citations back then) to all employees in the National Parks and National Forests.  Further, most of the authorities acts for protection of fish and wildlife refuges had also included arrest authority.  So the citation language of the amendment of the Flood Control Act of 1970 was unique in its origin and application.


   In 1971, the first nationwide set of regulations governing the use of USACE projects was issued. Soon a pilot program for issuing only “warnings” for enforcement of regulations was started at Lake Cumberland, Kentucky.  Six park rangers were employed for this and they were specifically prohibited from carrying firearms or exercising arrest authority. The first USACE park ranger to issue a citation at Lake Cumberland was Wallace Holcomb.  Holcomb and the five other park rangers are also credited with developing the first badges for USACE park rangers. The badges were purchased in 1971 through the U.S. Marshal Service in Lexington, KY and a local jeweler engraved them to say "Ranger" above a star and within the star were the words "Corps of Enginneers."  The second badge design incorporated the "Corps Castle" and removed the star.  The word "ranger" was removed from the badges around 1987 and the modern badge has reamined inchanged since.


A uniform was eventually adopted for these park rangers that was more-or-less identical to that used by the National Park Service at the time.  Further, the new USACE park rangers would be officially classified under the GS-025 park ranger series which up to that point was used exclusively by the National Park Service. By 1972, the pilot program was expanded nationwide and citation authority was implemented and the staffing of park ranger positions began.


   The Water Resource Development Act of 1974, requested that the USACE submit a report to the Congress on visitor protection services at USACE lakes.  The USACE contracted with PRC/Public Management Services, Inc. to conduct a study and prepare a report.  The objectives of the study were: (1) Analyze the present visitor protection conditions at Corps lakes and determine the adequacy of law enforcement and visitor protection operations and delivery systems; and (2) Present alternative means for providing future law enforcement and visitor protection services.  The Public Management Services, Inc. would incorporate a literature search, a survey of field respondents, and a study of approaches of other agencies.  They used a staff of 17 persons.  Their resulting 408 page report was titled: Report on Visitor Protection Services at Corps of Engineers Lakes and it was completed on October 29, 1974.  Their study determined the following findings:


  • There were a total of 320 COE park rangers assigned to COE areas.  Further that 256 of these had been designated with citation authority and had completed some type of 3 to 8 day citation training program. However, they found that the present system of COE ranger training was insufficient.  It had consisted of three days of training in the enforcement of title 36 Rules and Regulations and several slide photo programs related to the issuance of citations and warnings.
  • That security was an important concern of the visitors to COE recreation areas.  Visitors wanted to see more of the uniformed ranger which signifies security as it serves as a deterrent to antisocial behavior and provides a sense of security even though the ranger’s authorities are limited.                                          
  • The COE park ranger force was generally not prepared in numbers, background, training, or mission to provide the kind of law enforcement measures needed at COE recreation areas.
  • Enforcement of title 36 Rules and Regulations was the responsibility of the COR park ranger.  The authority did not allow for the power of arrest, search and seizure, nor the right to detain or otherwise restrict personal movement.  The report indicated that the rangers had nebulous “citizen arrest” ability that arises from their common law powers to act in certain aggravated circumstances to end a breach of the peace. (Note: this was a incomplete discussion of the issue of “citizen arrest” as it did not account for the fact that during the scope of their Federal employment, the COE park rangers were agents of the Federal government which could proscribe their ability to act at citizens of the state at those times.)
  • The COE citation program was a recent development aimed at the improvement of COE control of, and assistance to, the public.  It did not involve the authority to arrest, detain or restrict personal movement or to perform search or seizure.  The majority of COE lakes were presently authorized to have on staff a ranger with citation authority.
  • Preventative patrol or surveillance in COE developed areas was being provided by COE rangers in more than half (55%) of all cases. About 40 to 60 percent of a ranger’s time in the summer was being spent on law enforcement and visitor protection duties.  However, regularly scheduled preventative patrol by fully authorized state peace officers is the exception rather than the rule at COE lakes.
  • The use of related law enforcement equipment such as firearms or riot sticks by COE park rangers was extremely rare at COE sites.  There was a belief that there was a lack of legal authority to utilize these weapons in the course of their regulatory duties.
  • About half of the COE personnel surveyed indicated that the current citation power and ranger authority was not sufficient and their was a need for additional authority.
  • Some park rangers indicated that they would prefer to avoid issuance of citations at all because in reality the violator need only refuse to cooperate with the ranger or simply walk away to avoid receiving the citation.
  • About 38% of the COE personnel surveyed indicated that there was a need for ranger protection by having authority to carry firearms.
  • Finally, it was found that traffic control was considered to be one of the COE’s primary law enforcement problems.  Further, 40% of the COR personnel surveyed indicated that vandalism is the most significant problem they face. It was estimated that the annual cost due to crime and vandalism is almost $1.6 million.


   The Public Management Services report was a “third party report” and appeared to have been presented with a great deal of thoroughness and objectivity.  They more than adequately described the law enforcement approaches of the National Park Service and the Forest Service in terms of the necessity of having officers with arrest authority.  The last finding about the prevalence of traffic offenses and vandalism is perhaps the most telling on the need for full arrest authority for the USACE park rangers.  In order to enforce traffic offenses (moving violations) the officer needs to have the authority to make “traffic stops.”  Traffic stops are made essentially under an officer’s authority to “arrest” and/or to “search and seize” based upon probable cause that a traffic offense is occurring.  The Public Management Services report clearly found that the USACE park rangers did not have the authority to “detain or otherwise restrict personal movement.”  (It seems this would include the inability to detain when the persons are in a vehicle)  Therefore, the USACE park ranger’s ability to enforce traffic offenses was nebulous.  Further, the crime of vandalism under Federal law is a felony crime when the values exceed $1,000.  The use of citations is a generally unacceptable way to apprehend a felony vandalism offender.  Handling felony crimes is normally done through the making of an arrest.  So if the primary crime problem in USACE areas was traffic offenses and vandalism, then arrest authority was necessary to enable the park rangers to carry out their responsibilities.


   The Public Management Services report presented five alternatives for providing law enforcement and visitor protection services to USACE recreations areas in the future.  These alternatives were:


1. No change - continue providing services with “citation only” park rangers.

2. Abandon all COE law enforcement responsibilities for the recreation areas and seek other agencies to take on these responsibilities.

3. Supplement the current COE park ranger services with assistance from other law enforcement agencies.

4. Increase the authority and responsibility of the COE park rangers.

5. A combination of 3 & 4.


   Alternative 4 for increasing authority and responsibility for USACE park rangers had three sub-alternatives: (1) Full police powers (arrest, search and seizure, firearms)  for park rangers for Federal and state laws; (2) Increase utilization of current citation authority; and (3) Create a separate USACE police force to provide law enforcement services.


   The Department of the Army analyzed the Public Management Services report and prepared a summary report of their own.  This report was dated December 1974 and was titled Summary and Findings on Visitor Protection Services at Corps of Engineers Lakes.  This report reiterated the following findings:


  • There is a significant crime problem at COE lakes.
  • Sufficient visitor and resource protection is not being provided by the COE at the majority of lakes.
  • The ranger staff is overwhelmed by visitors and as a result are not capable of properly managing resources and people.
  • The lack of backup management support and “clout” plays a significant role in diminishing the rangers’ productivity.


   These two reports seemed to have provided an overwhelming amount of information that should have led to a call for significant changes in the USACE approach to law enforcement.  The reports could certainly be used to justify a request to the Congress for additional authority (arrest, search and seizure, firearms, etc.) for USACE park rangers to move them towards being full fledged Federal law enforcement officers in the same manner as was being done at that time for their counterparts in the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.  The National Park Service was then drafting language for their 1976 Authorities Bill and the various bills that would become the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (the BLM organic act) were being considered by the Congress starting in 1971.  In both cases, arrest, search and seizure, and firearms authority was included in the language of the proposed bills and in the final legislation.


   Because these reports were requested by the Congress, the Department of the Army had a tremendous opportunity to ask for any additional law enforcement authority that they deemed necessary.  Yet, that would not be the case when they made the transmittal of the reports to the Congress.  In a letter of transmittal dated July 2, 1975, the Assistant Secretary of the Army only requested two things from the Congress.  He asked that the Congress provide the same legal protection to Corps civilian employees engaged in law enforcement type activities as is presently provided to other Federal employees by amending Section 1114 (killing and assault of Federal employees) of Title 18, United States Code.  He also asked the Congress to authorize the Secretary of the Army to contract with State and local law enforcement agencies for increasing law enforcement services at times of peak demand.  The Department of the Army had an opportunity to seek additional law enforcement authority for the USACE park rangers that would move towards providing them parity with the other Federal land management agencies, but it now fell into the category, “you don’t get what you don’t ask for!” 


   The USACE was granted the authority to establish law enforcement contracts with State and local agencies through enactment of Section 120 of the Water Resources Development Act in 1976.  But it would take another seven years before park managers and park rangers would be included among Federal officers protected against assault. 


   The USACE was among the Federal land management agencies evaluated in the 1977 GAO report Crime in Federal Recreation Areas – A Serious Problem Needing Congressional and Agency Action. In their study of the issue, the GAO had quickly determined the applicable authorities and law enforcement approaches of the National Park Service, the BLM, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, and the Corps of Engineers differed greatly.  The GAO believed that it should be Federal policy that visitors to recreation areas receive the same law enforcement services, without regard to the agency administering the land or responsible for law enforcement services.  The GAO determined that the USACE’s reported visitation for 1975 was 376,000,000 more than any of the other Federal land management agencies.


  Through their own research, the GAO found out that the USACE did have some degree of  arrest authorities for violations related to navigable waters and fee collection.  However, they found that the USACE had strictly construed their law enforcement authorities and believed that general law enforcement was the responsibility of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.  They said that the USACE prohibits their park rangers from carrying firearms or engaging in general law enforcement activities.  However, some USACE park rangers surveyed said that they had made felony arrests for crimes against visitors or their property.  About 5% of the surveyed USACE park rangers told the GAO that they were carrying firearms. Some USACE park rangers said that they had received deputy sheriff status.  But the GAO believed that without expressed authority granted by Congress to accept some form of State law enforcement authority, some park rangers may be acting outside the scope of their employment when they act as deputy sheriffs.


   In terms of law enforcement training, the GAO found that the USACE was requiring only that its park rangers given citation authority attend an appropriate orientation/instruction course on citation procedures.  On the average, this amounted to about 15 hours of classroom instruction.  This was in stark contrast with the other Federal land management agencies who, at that time, were sending their law enforcement officers to a full course of basic law enforcement training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.


   The GAO recommended to the Congress that the standard law enforcement authority that should be granted to all Federal land management agencies (including the USACE) should include:


1. Authority to designate employees to maintain law and order and protect persons and property on Federal lands.

2. Authorize such designated law enforcement officials to carry firearms.

3. Authorize such designated law enforcement officials to secure, serve, and execute legal process and warrants.

4. Authorize such designated law enforcement officials to conduct investigations of Federal offenses committed on Federal land.

5. Authorize such designated law enforcement officials to make arrests.


   The GAO had invited those working in the field units to submit written comments.  One comment received from a USACE park rangers was as follows:


"It appears that the Corps of Engineers is afraid of law enforcement.  I don’t know why.  When a ranger is placed in a marked vehicle with a badge and in a uniform, the general public has a right to expect him to protect them from harm or hardship both from other people and the resources.  Because of the limited authority that I have (the public doesn’t realize how limited) and the absence of agency backup many local and state officers have told me that they would not have my job under any circumstances.  In my opinion the Corps attitude can be summed up in the attitude of one assistant district engineer who in 1972 told a training session that “All you have heard here forget.  I don’t want you out there getting into trouble or getting yourself hurt.  If you do, don’t come running to me.”


   The Department of Army responded to the report by saying the authorities they had sought for contracting with State and local law enforcement officials and providing legal protection (from assaults and killings) for COE civilian employees “. . . should materially enhance Corps efforts to improve visitor protection services at Corps civil works water resource development projects.”


   The 1977 GAO report was one more tremendous opportunity to bring about change in the COE law enforcement program by using the report to justify Congressional action to grant them the authority to employ full-fledged law enforcement park rangers.  The Department of the Army’s acquiescence to maintain their existing approach was once again in stark contrast to the other Federal land management agencies who were moving in the opposite direction.  It may have been a case of high level Army officials not really understanding the law enforcement business nor bothering to consider the input of their civilian field employees.  Because of the greater “command and control” structure of the military, district engineers could easily insist upon their own “attitudes” and preferences.  While it could be said that they had their “head in the sand,” maybe they really had their “head in the dam.”


   As evidenced by a paper presented by the USACE Chief of Recreation and Resource Management Branch at the National Outdoor Recreation Trends Symposium in 1980, the USACE had settled for a law enforcement program that had only two components: (1) “citation only” park rangers, and (2) using authority provided by the Congress to enter into contracts with states or their political subdivisions to obtain increased law enforcement services at water resource development projects.  However, the Congress had limited this authority to fiscal years 1978 and 1979 on a trial basis.  The USACE adopted an objective in which the Corps provides safe and healthful recreation opportunities while protecting and enhancing the project resources.  This was to be done by limiting their law enforcement authority to the issuance of citations for violations of USACE regulations (36 CFR) and that the managers and park rangers with such authority do not have the any authority to make arrests, carry weapons, or other items such as mace, nightsticks, or other similar equipment normally associated with law enforcement.  Their park rangers may stop, but not physically detain the public while enforcing these regulations.


   It was quite apparent that resistance to creating a full-fledged law enforcement program  was most likely due to the attitudes and preferences of the engineers.  This would serve to prevent the proper evolution of the USACE law enforcement program.  The “excuse” for a preference for a “one-half” quasi law enforcement program was the fact that USACE lands were held under “proprietary” Federal jurisdiction.  Under “proprietary” jurisdiction, the Federal government has only the authority to protect their “proprietary interests” and had no measure of jurisdiction for the enforcement of State laws and ordinances.  They could enforce their regulations only.  Their adopted philosophy was that the individual states and their political subdivisions retain the statutory authority and inherent responsibility to enforce state and local laws and they preferred that those laws be enforced by the State and local officers.  They seemed totally unaware that they could, by regulation, assimilate necessary State laws and local ordinances that served the purposes of the public in the use of their lands and waters.


   Their preference and belief was that “proprietary” Federal jurisdiction proscribed their ability or need to gain full law enforcement authority (arrest, search & seizure, firearms).  However, this couldn’t be further from the truth of the situation.  In the case of the two Federal land management agencies (the BLM and the Forest Service) that managed more “proprietary” jurisdiction lands than any others, the Congress had not hesitated providing these agencies with full law enforcement authority.  In the case of the BLM, this had been done as recently as 1976.  


   Nevertheless, the USACE was satisfied with their quasi law enforcement program of citation only rangers and contracts with state and local agencies.  They said, “We have found that this program has created better cooperation and rapport between local law enforcement officers and Corps personnel, reduced incidents of vandalism and other disturbances, increased (the) public’s sense of security and reduced the Corps personnel’s exposure to high risk situations affecting their safety and that of the public.”  They concluded in saying that, “We will continue to train our personnel to assist the visitor in every way possible, but maintaining a low key law enforcement image.”


  No matter how much the engineers were “afraid” of law enforcement, they just couldn’t escape law enforcement situations involving their park rangers.  Several of these incidents would truly tested whether the “Corps personnel’s exposure to high risk situations” had been reduced or not!


   An incident occurred in the southeastern U.S. involving a USACE park ranger who was carrying a handgun on duty even though this was not allowed. During a hazing ritual for a local club, some young men were running naked through the USACE campground.  In attempting to stop this activity, the park ranger fired a warning shot that accidentally hit and killed a 15 year old boy.  The USACE was considered at least partially liable, since the park ranger’s supervisor was apparently aware he was armed.  Certainly, if the park ranger wasn’t carrying a firearm, it could be said that this tragedy would not have occurred.  However, employing a park ranger who thinks that drawing a firearm and discharging it is an appropriate use of force for a misdemeanor enforcement contact is a far worse problem then the carrying of the firearm.  A full fledged Federal law enforcement officer would have had to have been properly qualified for law enforcement work, received some form of background investigation and psychological screening and have been properly trained in “use of force” principles.  Such a full fledged law enforcement officer would not have drawn his firearm in this type of situation.


   On June 29, 1977, two USACE park rangers at Blue Lake Reservoir, Arkansas would be the first known to have been shot in the line of duty.  Two prisoners who had been serving time for murder and armed robbery escaped from the Oklahoma State Prison.  They then went on a killing spree that would leave seven people dead, including one of the USACE park rangers.  They killed two fisherman and stole their car in Arkansas.  A Magazine, Oklahoma town marshal spotted the vehicle bearing Louisiana plates.  He went to contact the fugitives and was quickly over powered and handcuffed and placed in the truck of his patrol car.  The suspects then fled in the patrol car.  COE park rangers Opal James of Havana, Arkansas and David Small of Plainview, Arkansas were on patrol in their government vehicle when they spotted the town marshal’s patrol car.  They stopped to investigate and were immediately taken at gun point.  Park Ranger Small was placed into the truck and they handcuffed him to the marshal.  The suspects then fired two rounds into the truck killing the marshal and wounding Small.  Ranger Opal James was ordered to get back into his patrol vehicle where he was executed by a gunshot to the head.  Ranger James’ body would later be found near Montgomery, Arkansas some 40 miles way.  The suspects would finally be apprehended by the FBI in Portland, Oregon on July 9.


   In 1985, a USACE park ranger was on patrol at Keystone Lake, Oklahoma when he saw a car illegally parked on the sidewalk.  The person was resistive and non-communicative.  A lake patrol officer arrived to assist the park ranger in dealing with this person.  The officer ordered the person to produce some identification and ran some checks.  The identification in possession of this person had some inconsistencies.  When the officer confronted him, he said, “you caught me!”  The local sheriff deputies arrived and conducted a consent search of the car and found several different forms of identification but eventually determined that the person had four outstanding arrest warrants.  When he was told he was under arrest, he put his hands in his pockets and began approaching and was about to confront the USACE park ranger.  The lake patrol officer drew his weapon and told the suspect to “freeze.”  The lake patrol officer ordered him to take his hands out of his pockets and then did a pat down search and found a .38 caliber snub-nose pistol in his pocket.  Afterwards, the USACE park ranger realized that the suspect was in the process of drawing his gun to shoot the park ranger.  He apparently was going to blame the park ranger for the arrest as it had started as a “parking violation.”


   A USACE park technician (lower graded park ranger) was working at Ozark Lake, Arkansas in July 1986 taking water samples.  He was approached by a person who lived near the park who was complaining about people who had been abandoning stray dogs in the park.  He told the park ranger that he wanted the ranger to come to his house to pick-up a stray dog to take it to the pound.  The ranger said that he couldn’t do that because the dog was not located in the park.  The man became irate, began swearing and making threats towards the ranger.  When the ranger returned to the same area of the park later, the irate man was sitting at a picnic table waiting for him.  The man belligerently demanded that the ranger come over to where he was.  The ranger ignored his request.   The man then fired a rifle shot and the ranger turned around and saw that the man had a .308 caliber deer rifle pointed at him.  The man said “Let’s go get the dog now” and ordered the ranger to go with him at gunpoint.  Arriving at the man’s house, the ranger was attempting to secure the dog, but it was growling at him, so he asked the man to help him.  When the man put down the rifle and moved towards the dog, the ranger ran back to the truck, grabbed the rifle and drove away.  The ranger reported this incident to the local sheriff’s office and some deputies arrested the man a short time later.


   In November 1993 at a USACE recreation area in Wayne County, Missouri, two USACE park rangers requested assistance from a Missouri Conservation Officer (game warden) to deal with some dogs running at large.  The conservation officer met with the park rangers at USACE parking area #55.  It was deer hunting season at the time and a vehicle was parked in the USACE parking area that had the appearance of possibly belonging to some hunters.  USACE lands and facilities are generally open to hunting activity unless designated closed by the district commander.  The conservation officer was busy conducting checks of hunters for licenses and tags and saw a hunter in another vehicle that needed to be checked.  He asked the USACE park rangers to assist him by watching the parked vehicle and if the persons returned he requested that the park rangers ask for their names and ask if they had their deer hunting permits.  In normal circumstances, this would be a reasonably request that a state conservation officer would make to park rangers.  But soon the park rangers were on the radio asking the conservation officer for immediate assistance at their location.  When the conservation officer arrived, two irate persons were yelling at the park rangers.  The older man told the conservation officer that these park rangers had no right to ask his son for information or to see his deer tags.  The conservation officer explained to the man that he had requested the park rangers to do so and was trying to calm the situation.  The irate man said he was going to “kick their (the park rangers) ass.”  The man then made the same threat to the conservation officer and began moving aggressively towards the conservation officer.  The conservation officer pulled his pepper spray from its holster.  The man asked the conservation officer if that was the new kind of pepper spray that he had heard caused some deaths.  The man then told his son to go to the truck and get his gun and to shoot the conservation officer if he sprayed him.  At that point the conservation officer drew his firearm and made ready.  He told the son to put down the gun three times.  The son told the park rangers to leave before putting his gun down.  The conservation officer told the park rangers to immediately leave the parking lot.  The hunters then went back into the woods to retrieve their deer.  The conservation officer filed felony complaints against the two hunters and they were subsequently arrested.  The men unsuccessfully attempted to claim that the pepper spray was a deadly weapon and they were just defending themselves.


   Time after time, the “citation only” park rangers of the USACE would be required to do misdemeanor enforcement work in an environment that quite often exposed them to felonious activities.  In other words, their exposure to high risk situations had not been reduced as assumed by USACE officials. No one could control when this exposure would occur.  When this exposure  happened the USACE park rangers lacked the authority, training, and equipment to deal with the totality of these situations.


   In organizing the work of their park ranger force, the USACE issued Classification Guidance for Park Ranger Positions in the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in 1987.  Despite the documentation of several high risk situations related to law enforcement duties, this document severally downplayed the park ranger law enforcement work.  All descriptions of law enforcement work was described under the misnomer of “visitor protection.”  Perhaps that phrase sounded more pleasant to those who wished to avoid even using the phrase law enforcement.  The document identified a goal that stated: “. . . it is imperative that the Corps Ranger be among the best qualified, best trained, and most highly motivated personnel available.”  However, because the USACE park rangers were not full-fledged Federal law enforcement officers they were not subject to the more stringent standards for law enforcement officers.  Full-fledged Federal law enforcement officers must meet physical and mental standards, education standards, sustain a full-field background investigation, attend a full course of basic Federal law enforcement training, and attend periodic in-service training.  Compared to the law enforcement officers of the BLM, the Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the USACE park rangers are among the least qualified and least trained of all the Federal land management agencies.  In fact, a lot of their more qualified and motivated rangers quite often applied for and obtained law enforcement officer positions in the other land management agencies.


   Among the few law enforcement duties described in the document were patrol of USACE areas and coordination law enforcement agreements and contracts.  At the GS-5 level the park ranger is only responsible to patrol project lands and waters to check for compliance with rules and regulations pertaining to parking, camping, noise level, sanitation, and safety.  This person can note violations, talk to the visitors, issue warnings, or report non-compliance to higher graded personnel.  At the GS-7 level the park ranger is responsible for patrol of land and water areas and enforcing various rules and regulations through issuance of verbal warnings, written warnings, and actual citations.  This person must follow policy and guidelines issued by the Federal Court having local jurisdiction and maintains necessary evidence and offense records.  In addition to the GS-7 level work, the GS-9 level park ranger is responsible for coordinating law enforcement agreements with sheriff’s department, highway patrol, and other law enforcement agencies.  They also prepare specifications and oversees inspection of law enforcement contracts.  While the other Federal land management agencies were working on classification guides that more accurately described the reality of the law enforcement duties of their officers, the USACE was again moving in the opposite direction.


   Despite the vague and restrictive law enforcement duties described in the classification guidance, the USACE park rangers were continually being exposed to felonious activities.  In 1994, some “Division Task Force Visitor Assistance Reviews” were called for to itemized incidents of violent crime in the USACE areas.  An attempt was being made in this process to determine the number of verbal assaults, physical threats and physical assaults against rangers by visitors and against visitors by visitors.  In regards to physical assaults against rangers, about 1,000 incidents had been reported in the three previous years.  Visitor assault incidents were as many as 15,000 in the same time period.  The USACE park rangers were issuing as many as 9,000 citations per year and vehicle violations represented the majority of these.  There were 942 permanent USACE park rangers in 1994.


   The Federal Times newspaper caught wind of this process and published an article titled Violent Crimes Threaten Corps of Engineers Parks on August 15, 1994.  It was probably hoped by some of the USACE park rangers that this publicity would bring some attention to their plight.  This article made mention that there were about 1,500 USACE park rangers (including seasonals) patrolling 400 man-made lakes and recreation areas nationwide. It was reported that in the case of a violent crime occurring, the rangers are supposed to radio for backup and obtain the assistance of local sheriff’s department to handle the problem.  In the violent crime scenario, the USACE park rangers were not really responsible for “visitor protection” or “visitor assistance” as there were few regulations in Title 36 CFR that served these purposes.  Some of the park rangers had said that the USACE’s program of citation only rangers coupled with local law enforcement agreements was outdated for the following reasons:


  • Increased use of Army Corps recreation sites has led to an increase in violent crimes.
  • An increase in society’s violence and gang activity has spilled over into the parks.
  •  Local sheriff’s departments are stretched thin because of budget cuts.
  • The recreation areas are often deep in the woods and cannot be reached quickly by sheriff’s deputies.


   The park rangers said that they are only allowed to undertake minor law enforcement duties, such as making speeding and drunk driving stops and reporting vandalism and theft.  But in carrying out these duties, they were often exposed to a need to intervene in assaults, spousal abuse, rapes, and drug deals.  This finding was documented by a number of actual reports.  In the Fort Worth district alone 5 high risk incidents were identified as follows: (1) subject observed smoking marijuana, after the vehicle was searched a loaded .25 caliber handguns was found; (2) victims were beaten with clubs and robbed; (3) a victim was shot with a double barrel sawed-off shotgun; (4) victims were being beaten by several other subjects; and (5) a victim was raped while another subject watched.  A retired USACE provost marshal in Fort Worth told the reporter that by the end of the summer of 1994, “ . . . the Corps will unnecessarily bury an untrained, confused, poorly equipped Corps ranger or summer hire.”  However, the USACE chief of construction said that, “Our rangers have had some confrontations, but we haven’t had anyone killed.  We want to get out in front of the problem.”  This official definitely had his “head in the dam!”  He was so naive on USACE law enforcement issues that he seemed to not know that USACE Park Ranger Opal James was killed in the line of duty in 1977.  Further, if he and the USACE wished to get out in front of the problem, now was the time.


   In November 1994, an acting Assistant Secretary of the Army, approved a plan to conduct a thorough review of visitor and ranger safety at civil works projects.  The review was to be conducted by a visitor/ranger safety review committee as directed by a steering committee.  The committees were made up entirely of USACE personnel.  Two members were identified as a “law enforcement officer” and a “provost marshal” respectively.  But these appeared to have been military members.  So there were no persons placed on these committees that had any experience in running a full-fledged law enforcement program where “civilians” are regulated in a recreation or land management setting.  A “no substantial change” in law enforcement policy could be more-or-less predicted based upon the committee make-up.


   The review report candidly admitted that:


Throughout the visitor assistance program, the COE has made a conscious decision to approach law enforcement differently from other federal agencies.  The primary reason given for this departure from the norm is that the COE only acquired proprietary interests during acquisition of fee lands.


   The review report even provided potential background on how this “different approach” had emerged as early as 1970.  An independent report titled How to Meet Recreation Needs at Corps of Engineers Reservoirs, had been commissioned by the USACE.  In that report the author said,


Prevalent was a practice of lax, indifferent, or loose administration founded on the philosophy of leaving people alone to do what they want.  This may be partly a subconscious extension of the Corps “good guy” philosophy . . . More fundamentally it is a failure to appreciate or accept the public management responsibility which the Corps has to protect the resources and facilities entrusted to it, as well as to protect, lead, and service the users of such public property.  In stronger terms, it is an abdication of management responsibility.


   To illustrate the USACE “different approach,” the report presented a comparison table that identified all the other Federal land management agencies as having: (1) commissioned (full-fledged) officers; (2) had separate law enforcement divisions; (3) had minimum basic law enforcement training requirement of 11 weeks (FLETC); and (4) had a 40 hour annual in-service training requirement.  The USACE had no commissioned officers, no separate law enforcement division, and only required a 36 hour training program.  This was not only a different approach, it was an aberrant approach.


   The review included a survey of 1,709 park rangers, managers, and other personnel. Several survey respondents commented that the USACE is the only Federal land management agency lacking its own law enforcement arm.  Some of the most telling comments were:


  •  “. . . We present the image of law enforcement without any tools.  The public already realizes that they don’t have to pay our citations and nothing will happen.”
  •  “Many of the visitors I have had dealings with know that the best way to beat a federal citation issued by a Corps ranger is to do nothing.”
  •  “There is denial on the part of the agency as to the types of situations field personnel are faced with.”
  •  “This policy to always back off is a dereliction of duty.”
  •  “I feel very vulnerable in my job.  The public is extremely upset with the Corps and our policies.  A park manager has had his house shot, his cat’s head decapitated.  Two rangers have relocated due to death threats.  It’s time to become responsible and realize that our visitor is changing, and the Corps ranger must adapt to meet these changes.  In our parks in the past two years, in one incident, people were held at bay with a pistol while another man beat someone half to death with a tire tool.”


   A Visitor/Ranger Safety Conference with a representative sample of rangers and managers was held as part of the review.  The two most important issues to emerge were the “role of the ranger” and “training.”  Other issues that were identified were:


  • The “role of the ranger” as currently defined by policy and regulations did not reflect the actual duties routinely performed. In addition to the traditional visitor assistance and resource protection duties, the rangers are now facing increasing visitor protection responsibilities such as responding to fights, domestic disturbances, and confrontations between visitors.  The ranger is required to patrol a park, wear a badge and enforce title 36, but is told not to portray a law enforcement image.
  • Training in enforcement skills was inadequate and infrequent.  Personal protection and self-defense tactics needed to be taught frequently and more in-depth to adequately perfect skills.
  • Authorizing the use of pepper spray by rangers had generated considerably comment.
  • The issue of guns and “arming rangers” generated strong emotional responses from the field.  However, the review committee felt that night sticks, hand cuffs and guns should not be authorized unless the Corps seeks authority for arrest and commissioned to enforce either state or federal laws.
  • Corps rangers efforts to enforce title 36 are sometimes hindered by the U.S. magistrate system.
  •  Approximately 75 percent of the participants indicated that increased law enforcement authority was needed.
  • COE enforcement authority is not always commensurate with enforcement responsibility, and may be inadequate to ensure visitor and resource protection and safety of rangers.


   The discussions in the review report on the subjects of use of force, serving warrants/process, making traffic stops, and access to information retrieval from the NCIC system were very illustrative of the review committee’s lack of experience and naivety in law enforcement legal issues.  These issues are inherently linked to a law enforcement officer’s grant of authority for making arrests and conducting necessary searches and seizures.


   The review report was supportive of at least providing some training to USACE park rangers in the use of some forms of physical tactics to defend themselves from assaults.  There was also support for use of pepper spray by the park rangers.  The use of both of these tactics by citizens is generally considered to be for “self-defense” purposes.  However, striking another person with fists, feet, etc. and the deployment of pepper spray against an assaultive person is considered a “use of force” when done by a law enforcement officer.  Use of force by a law enforcement officer is legally connected to the officer’s powers of arrest.  The initial use of force is for the purpose of the officer defending himself, then force is continually applied until the assaultive behavior is curtailed and an arrest for assault is made.  That being said, since USACE park rangers lacked statutory authority for making arrests, any use of force by them in a law enforcement setting is somewhat nebulous.  A law enforcement officer hitting someone or pepper spraying them and then retreating (running away) is downright ludicrous.


   Another major problem identified in the review report is where the Federal criminal justice system fails to follow through with serving bench warrants when violators do not pay the forfeiture collateral and fail to appear in court.  Quite often the U.S. Marshal is simply too busy to pursue individuals who do not appear because of higher priorities established by the court.  This finding illustrates a lack of understanding of what a federal citation really is.  A federal citation is a tool permitted by the Federal rules of criminal procedure in which a person can be charged with violation of a misdemeanor crime without the necessity of physically arresting the person and bringing them immediately before the magistrate. It is designed in such a way that as long as the person “promises to appear” in court at the assigned time and date or they pay the fine/collateral for the offense, they need not be arrested.  A citation is really an “arrest” and then a release from arrest based upon a promise to take care of the matter with the court.  This is why when the Congress authorized the issuance of citations to the USACE, this was aberrant language, as normally the authority granted is arrest authority and the procedure of citations merely goes along with the arrest authority.  Could have the “citation only” language been by USACE design rather than what Congress would normally grant in these circumstances?


   The other Federal land management agencies also have the same problem of the U.S. Marshal Service not actively serving warrants for “failure to appear” on their agency citations.   The difference is that the other Federal land management agencies have arrest authority and authority to serve warrants and other court process.  The other agencies often put interagency teams together to “round up” the “failure to appear” offenders on a periodic basis.  They do not have to depend on other agencies to complete their own criminal justice responsibilities.


   Stopping members of the public from free personal movement or movement in a vehicle is inherently a seizure.  The USACE freely admits that they “stop” violators, but if the violator wants to leave then they cannot detain them.  Stopping a person involves the burdens of proof of “reasonable suspicion” or “probable cause” that the person being stopped has committed or may be committing a crime.  This is a distinct law enforcement action for “criminal justice purposes.”  The review report admits that: “There is able evidence to demonstrate that the duties performed by rangers in the enforcement of Title 36 are clearly for ‘criminal justice purposes.’”  When stopping a person for a crime, an essential tool of law enforcement is to run the person for “wants and warrants” in the NCIC system.  The review report correctly states that NCIC use is limited to authorized criminal justice purposes and dissemination of information is based on an official need to know.  The official need to know is that the request for information is being made by a law enforcement officer and it is because they have stopped and are interrogating a subject who they at least have “reasonable suspicion” has committed a crime.   The information requested can also serve “officer safety” purposes when the person may be considered “armed and dangerous.”  The question that remains, that absent any authority to make an arrest, what is the USACE park ranger going to do next if the person does have outstanding arrest warrants?  Further, what are they going to do if they are considered “armed and dangerous” when they are not authorized to carry firearms.  Plainly speaking, the review committee was looking towards adding further enforcement procedures without the having the underlying authority to finish the job.  Further, because the USACE park ranger training program did not constitute a program of “basic law enforcement training” they were given no instruction in: (1) Constitutional law; (2) the legal aspects of use of force; (3) the Federal rules of criminal procedure; and (4) the Federal rules of evidence, etc.


   Perhaps the greatest defect in the USACE law enforcement program is the foundation for the program as presented in their regulations (title 36).  The review report clearly stated that: “ Title 36 needs to be updated to adequately provide for the protection of visitors, rangers, and resources.” and that, “The Corp should consider broadening the scope of its regulatory authority to include a wider range of visitor protection issues.”  This was perhaps an understatement.  Congress grants criminal regulations authority to Federal agencies that will serve to provide the “Federal purpose.” The agency can regulate any activity on Federal property and adjacent lands that can be directly linked to the Federal purpose.  Case law is well established in this area.  See the following cases:


  • 1897, Camfield v. United States: The court found that the government’s power over its own property is “analogous to the police powers” of the states.  The government has the power to regulate conduct that interferes with the designated purpose for the use of the Federal property.
  • 1981, Minnesota v. Block: The court affirmed the government’s authority to regulate “. . . conduct on or off the public land that would threaten the designated purpose of the Federal lands”


   So the only limit on what activities the USACE can regulate is whether prohibiting such activity serves the Federal purpose.  Further, the section of law that authorizes the USACE to issue criminal regulations gives examples of “dumping and unauthorized disposal” but that phrase is prefaced with “but not limited to.”  So for the most part, any limitations presented in the regulations are self-imposed by the USACE. While the USACE park rangers did not have a grant of authority that allowed them the accept any measure of the States’ law enforcement authority (even if deputized) they would have authority to enforce any regulation (including assimilated state laws) issued by the USACE to provide for the Federal purpose.


   But an examination of the USACE regulations (title 36) reveals that the USACE has severally restricted what the park rangers can enforce by their own intentions.  To determine what activities that should be properly regulated requires examination of the “Federal purpose.”  The “Federal purpose” is provided in the policy section found at § 327.1 (a) which states:


It is the policy of the Secretary of the Army, acting through the Chief of Engineers, to manage the natural, cultural and developed resources of each project in the public interest, providing the public with safe and healthful recreational opportunities while protecting and enhancing these resources.


   So the “Federal purpose” can be interpreted as providing recreational opportunities while meeting the objectives of: (1) public interest; (2) public safety; (3) public health; and (4) protecting and enhancing resources.  The Federal purpose is clearly not being completely provided by these regulations.  The review report found that the use of alcohol and drugs was a top issue and was seen as a major contributor to verbal/physical assaults against both rangers and visitors.  Also that, the misuse of alcohol is a contributing factor in visitor conflicts, damage to public and private property, and personal injury accidents at Corps managed recreation areas.  Yet, other than a regulation that allows for closure of areas to alcohol consumption, there are no regulations that address the use, possession, or trafficking in illegal drugs or alcohol. There are no regulations prohibited operating a vehicle while intoxicated or a even regulation that required the driver to have a driver’s license to be enforced by the park rangers.  The regulations merely state that state laws are to be complied with and defers all enforcement of same to state and local law enforcement officers.  Yet assimilated regulations related to drug and alcohol use would clearly serve the objective of public health and safety.


   One of the recreational opportunities that USACE areas are available for are hunting and fishing.  Yet what is more natural than a park ranger checking that persons have the required licenses and tags for these activities. Yet even these “resource crimes” are deferred to State and local officers.  Enforcement of fish and wildlife laws by USACE rangers clearly meets the objectives of public interest and protecting and enhancing resources.  Yet the USACE proscribes these enforcement activities on the part of the park rangers.  The USACE clearly has the authority to assimilate state and local laws relating to the Federal purpose into their own regulations, but they have chosen not to do this.  Essentially the foundation of their law enforcement program is faulty.


   Is this part of the policy of “abdication of management responsibility” mentioned in the 1970 report?


   Lastly the review report had several things to say about the organization structure of the park ranger function.  They found that:


  • The natural resources and recreation management organization is such that it is not providing in-house visitor safety and protection services at a level that is provided by other federal and state land management agencies.
  • Ranger safety was the number three issue and the lack of organizational consistency was ninth.
  • There is a perception in the field that the visitor assistance regulations and policies do not reflect a commitment to ranger and public safety.  There is inconsistent administration of the program at every level of the Corps, which leads to confusion, indecision, and frustration for employees.


   The other Federal land management agencies had all established leadership structures for their law enforcement programs where a titular head or chief of law enforcement was appointed at the National level to provide program leadership and policy development.  So unlike the USACE, the other agencies were not subservient to recreation specialists or engineers.  They were led by persons who understood and knew their law enforcement business.


   A third party reader of the review report might quickly conclude that the proposed recommendation would be to seek full-fledged law enforcement authority for their park rangers.  The totality of the findings in the report seem to point in this direction.  However, the alternative for implementing a program of commissioned (full-fledged) rangers was rejected outright because it would require determining the outcome of a “pilot study.”  Was this a “pre-ordained” outcome?  Only the review committee members know the answer to this question.  The report  appears to have a preferred alternative of the “status quo” with the addition of expanded training, issuance of pepper spray and revising the title 36.  The current training program was to be improved and expanded to ensure adequate enforcement skills such as personal protection, situational evaluation, and tactical communications are taught to all employees prior to performing visitor assistance duties.  Specific guidance and standard operating procedures would be developed for use of pepper spray and protective vests.


   No substantial revisions would ever be made to Title 36 to broaden the types of activities to be enforced at USACE areas.  The 1999 law enforcement policy statement for the USACE is as follows:


States, local governments, and Federal law enforcement agencies retain statutory authority and responsibility to enforce the law at Civil Works projects.  Section 234 of the Flood Control Act of 1970 provided that the Secretary of the Army may cause to be issued citations for aggravated cases of refuse dumping and other violations of the rules and regulations under Chapter III, Title 36, CFR.  Division commanders have been authorized to designate civil works installations wherein the citation authority will be implemented.  Oral and written warnings will be used in minor cases to the maximum extent possible.  There is no authority for Corps personnel to take an offender into custody.  Weapons will not be carried or used for citation enforcement.  Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, as applicable, retain the authority and responsibility to enforce all laws.


   This policy statement is indicative that no change whatsoever had occurred as a result of the comprehensive visitor/ranger safety review of 1995.  However, a pilot program for deployment of pepper spray would begin in 2001.


   The USACE law enforcement program was basically stuck in a configuration not unlike that of the National Park Service prior to 1970.  But the National Park Service program had evolved as a result of the Yosemite Riot of 1970 and several other critical law enforcement events in their history.  Likewise, critical law enforcement events led to similar evolutions in the other Federal land management agencies.  The high level officials of the USACE would remain with their “heads in the dam” and their park rangers would enter the 21st century armed with nothing more than a uniform, a badge, a ticket book, and a canister of pepper spray.


   As recently as 2007, another USACE park ranger was shot in the line of duty.  Park Ranger Albert Chaves was on patrol at Abiquiu Lake when he noticed the lock and chain on the gate to a pump house had been tampered with.  Two men came out of the pump house.  One of the men fired two shots at Chaves. One bullet just missed his head and the other hit him above the right knee. Are the USACE park rangers still “sitting ducks” out there?


   As stated in the beginning of this narrative, the USACE is the Nation's number one provider of outdoor recreation among the Federal land management agencies.  Yet, from an authority and intention basis they are the least qualified agency to manage this use.  The high level officials of the USACE probably don’t see their Federal purpose as being anything more than dam building and flood control.  If they are so hell bent on not expanding their law enforcement program so that adequate visitor protection and resource protection services are provided for, then they probably ought to just get out of the recreation business.  The public would be far better served if the administration of their recreation areas would be transferred to appropriate field offices of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. 






  In a clear contrast to the evolution of Park Rangers in the USACE, the Department of Defense also employs conservation law enforcement officers (game wardens) at some of the larger military bases and posts that contain significant lands and waters that sustain fish and wildlife populations.


  The military has a long history of withdrawing public lands for military purposes and also acquiring lands from private parties for establishing military bases and posts.  Some military activities require large swaths of land in varying environments of forests, plains, deserts, and even sea shores.  Some of the older forts had been established in settlement times.  These land holdings often have significant populations of fish and wildlife resources.  In early times, military commanders allowed military members to hunt and fish without regard to any reasonable regulation. This would be the case for many decades.


  During WW II, a significant number of U.S. military service personnel were stationed in in Alaska and at other large bases containing fish and wildlife resources.  The servicemen had developed a reputation for their wanton destruction of wildlife. The hunting of wildlife on the bases was the only real recreation for off-duty personnel at these remote military installations.  Many of the military members had their own firearms and plenty of ammunition. So it was not unusual for local wildlife populations to experience a great deal of hunting and fishing pressures.


  After the war, local sportsman began to express their opposition to these servicemen who often violated local fish and game laws. State fish and game agencies would bring numerous court cases against military men for game law violations.  This embarrassed military commanders and relations with the local citizen populations were negatively affected.


  In 1948, the military commander of Alaska, Air Force Lt. Gen. Nathan Twining, met with the Alaska regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Clarence J. Rhode, to discuss issues the USFWS had with service members violating hunting regulations.  As a result of the meeting, each large Air Force installation in Alaska appointed military game wardens to investigate alleged violations committed by military personnel.


  On October 11, 1949, President Harry Truman signed an act titled “Eglin Field Reservation—Wildlife, Fish, and Game Conservation Act.” This act became known as the original Sikes Act of 1949.  This act directed the Secretary of the Air Force to create a program at Eglin Field, Florida, for “planning, development, maintenance, and coordination of wildlife, fish, and game conservation and rehabilitation” in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The law also authorized the Air Force to issue hunting and fishing licenses for a fee.  This would create a need for personnel who would administer and enforce the program.


  The Department of Defense (DOD) also generally moved towards a policy managing hunting and fishing on its lands in 1956, by issuing a DOD Directive 5500.3 for  “Hunting and Fishing on Military Reservations.”  It authorized, but did not order, commanders to permit hunting and fishing on their bases and encouraged cooperation with federal, state, and local agencies and civilian sportsmen’s groups to promote conservation activities.  This directive was later amended by making it clear that military personnel on installations under federal jurisdiction were not required to purchase state licenses.


  In 1956 congressional hearings were convened for the purpose of discussing military land holdings and conservation issues.  Testimony from civilian natural resource professionals revealed that the DOD’s  fish and wildlife management policies were outdated and not in compliance with nor complementary to State and local laws. Significant controversy surfaced surrounded the subject of DOD land and wildlife management practices during the second round of hearings. The committee conducting the hearings became known as the Engle committee.  In 1957, the committee issued its final report that stated “in too many instances such areas have taken on all the aspects of exclusive military hunting preserves, closed to the public at large, and closed to the Federal and State officials charged with responsibility for fish and game law enforcement.”  There were strong objections from local conservation officials regarding military officers and enlisted personnel ignoring fixed seasons for taking game, bag limits, and methods and times of capture. Some media reports in the Washington Post and New York Times reported that the “committee had heard charges that military ‘stinkers’ were staging mass slaughters of game animals in defiance of state laws.”  An incident at Fort Huachuca, Arizona was also identified in which the “commanding officer virtually compelled state officials to consent to a special hunt to kill off” the resident bison herd..


  The hearings resulted in the passing of the Engle Act of 1958 titled “The Withdrawal and Utilization of Public Lands of the U.S. Defense Agencies Act.” The act required Congressional approval for the military to withdraw more than 5,000 acres from the public domain. Further, it mandated that the military services overhaul their fish and wildlife regulations, standardize them across all installations, and require full compliance with state and local fish and wildlife and conservation laws. The DOD then cancelled its former directives on fish and wildlife management and on July 16, 1958, and issued a new Directive 5500.5 titled “Management, Conservation, and Harvesting of Fish and Game Resources.”


  The Engle Act required military members to comply with all federal, state, and local fish and game laws.  It also required military members to be stationed on a base for thirty days before becoming eligible for state licenses. Base commanders also had to allow state and local fish and game managers full access to military reservations to ensure that their laws were followed. Congress expanded the original Sikes Act with amendments in 1960, which required the DOD to create a centralized natural resource conservation program and required that all the military services fully implement the provisions of the Engle Act.  The 1960 Sikes Act amendments provided that:

• The DOD shall prepare and implement an integrated natural resources management plan for each military installation.
• Such plan be prepared In cooperation with the USFWS and State fish and game agencies.
• Such plan must include (among other things) enforcement of applicable natural resource laws and regulations.
• All Federal laws relating to the management of natural resources on Federal land may be enforced by the Secretary of Defense with respect to violations of the laws that occur on military installations within the United States.



  On March 18, 2011, the DOD issued an instruction titled “Natural Resources Conservation Program.”   The instruction is applicable to all DOD operations, activities, real property, and property interests owned, leased, permitted, and/or controlled in the United States, including public lands withdrawn from all forms of appropriation under public land laws and reserved for use by the Department of Defense, as well as State lands used for military training and testing.  However the instruction does not apply to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Civil Works organization.  Further, the instruction provides that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness is responsible for managing the DOD Conservation Law Enforcement Program.


  On October 17, 2013, the DOD issued an instruction titled “Conservation Law Enforcement Program.”  The instruction provides (among other things) that: (1) the protection of property and natural and cultural resources under DOD control is accomplished through the enforcement of all applicable federal and state laws and regulations; (2) conservation law enforcement officers are authorized to conduct criminal investigations; (3) primary (basic) training for personnel who serve as DOD conservation law enforcement officers is the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Land Management Police Training Program (LMTP). The instruction further provides that the objectives of the Conservation Law Enforcement Program are (among other things): (1) ensure installations and military and public users remain in compliance with appropriate environmental, natural, and cultural resource laws and regulations; and (2) provide specialized law enforcement expertise regarding natural and cultural resource matters and protection of government property.  DOD conservation law enforcement officer’s authority is derived from the Engle Act, the Sikes Act, and powers delegated from the installation commander’s authority to protect or secure the facility.


  The Sikes Act mandates that natural resources law enforcement be provided on military lands. However, each military service has historically addressed the subject individually on an installation-by-installation basis. This has included a range of law enforcement options ranging from employment of civilians, military police, or combinations of civilian and military police to conduct conservation law enforcement officer duties.


  Those engaged in DOD conservation law enforcement function are guardians of wild places and wildlife. For example, on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, they quietly keep the peace between thousands of troops and their families and the untold numbers of wild animals that call the base home. On this base, there are three federal officers (civilian) and 48 military members that patrol areas that are full of wildlife.  The military members on the base are referred to as military conservation agents.  They are volunteers who only enforce small fishing and hunting violations and don't carry law enforcement authority.


  The U.S. Army Military Police School had developed a specific training program for U.S. Army Conservation Law Enforcement Officers.  The Army has over 100 positions programmed in support of game warden and conservation law enforcement duties.  These conservation law enforcement officers have a broad range of duties within the law enforcement spectrum, such as ensuring that licensing requirements are met by hunters, fishermen, and trappers.  They conduct detailed investigations in order to solve wildlife crimes.  These officers also make arrests for DUI or boating under the influence.  The Army conservation law enforcement officers work for the protection of property, natural and cultural resources under DOD control, which is accomplished through the enforcement of all applicable federal and state laws an regulations.


  Some of the DOD conservation law enforcement officers belong to the National Military Fish and Wildlife Association (NMFWA) and they make up the Conservation Law Enforcement Working Group.  The goals of this group are to: (1) Facilitate communication and information exchange among members of NMFWA who are responsible for conservation law enforcement or those who have an interest in conservation law enforcement; (2) Enhance knowledge and technical capabilities of DOD natural resources and conservation law enforcement professionals in the area of conservation law enforcement; and (3) Increase awareness and appreciation within DOD of conservation law enforcement issues and decision-making processes. However, the existence of these DOD “game wardens” remains very obscure and exactly where they are staffed and employed is not well known.  The following is a list of some (there may be more) of the military installations that are most well known for conducting programs of managing fish and wildlife resources.  It is therefore highly likely that they may employ DOD conservation law enforcement officers.

Fort Hunter Liggett, CA
Fort Polk, LA
Blue Grass Army Depot, KY
Yakima Training Center, WA
Fort Riley, KS
Fort Bliss, TX
Fort Drum, NY
West Point, NY
Vandenberg AFB, CA
Jacksonville NAS, FL
Fort Carson, CO
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and other large bases in Alaska