- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

The National Park Service ignores its own recommendation that park rangers work in pairs in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona, the site where a ranger was fatally shot last week while trying to capture a man fleeing Mexican authorities, according to the association representing forest rangers.
The park rangers lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police is calling for congressional hearings into the shooting and is demanding an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration into rangers' working conditions.
Greg Jackson, the immediate past president of the lodge, said the Border Patrol agents in the region get specific training for policing the dangerous border area, while Park Service rangers don't.
"They're doing the same job right there on the border. [In the Border Patrol] they send you to a field training program with dedicated field officer training that teaches you to survive out there," he said. "Not the Park Service, they take the ranger right out of the academy, put them there right on the border."
Ranger Kris Eggle, 28, was shot and killed Friday by a man fleeing Mexican authorities. The man was suspected of taking part in a drug-related killing, and he along with another suspect in the shooting, fled across the U.S.-Mexican border into the park, which accounts for about 30 miles of the border southwest of Tucson.
Mr. Eggle responded along with several U.S. Border Patrol agents to Mexican authorities' alert and was shot just below his body armor.
Organ Pipe Cactus has become a major crossing point for drug and alien smugglers, but park rangers say nothing has been done to help them prepare for the new duties.
Mr. Jackson said the Park Service's own study showed Organ Pipe needs 16 rangers to deal with the influx of criminal activities. He said the park currently has four rangers in the field and one supervisor manning a desk, while a Park Service spokesman said staffing is about eight.
In addition, Randall Kendrick, the lodge's executive director, said the National Park Service has ignored a recommendation from its own staff that rangers in Organ Pipe Cactus never work without a partner.
"The NPS has a history of ignoring known dangers to park rangers, writing reports and failing to implement them," Mr. Kendrick said.
A spokesman for the Interior Department did not return a phone call for comment on the staffing recommendations yesterday.
But Rick Frost, a spokesman for the Park Service Inter-Mountain Region in Denver, said Organ Pipe's policy is to have rangers pair up to do routine patrols. He said the call concerning the Mexican fugitives wasn't a routine patrol. He also said Mr. Eggle was teamed up with the Border Patrol agents.
Mr. Frost said the Park Service is committed to increasing the number of rangers at the park by 12 and providing helicopter support to the park, at a yearly cost of $900,000.
Dennis Burnett, acting chief ranger for the National Park Service, said ranger staffing is a problem throughout the Park Service, particularly in the last year as rangers have left to join the Transportation Security Administration.
"Our staffing levels are down considerably, and they continue to dwindle," he said.
The Interior Department's inspector general issued a report in January detailing the disconnect between the department's civilian managers and law enforcement.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime and drugs, has monitored the department's progress in meeting the inspector general's recommendations.
"I can't say whether this terrible shooting occurred because of poor management at the National Park Service, but I hope the Interior Department will investigate what happened and respond right away to fix any conditions that put officers in unnecessary danger," Mr. Grassley said yesterday.

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