Urban-style crime in national forests seems to be on the rise

In some parts of the U.S., being a forest ranger isn’t the cushy job you might imagine. Far from keeping cartoon bears away from picnic baskets, rangers have been confronting a rising tide of urban-style crime: everything from domestic violence and drunken driving to armed robbery and marijuana cultivation. “It’s really a microcosm of where we are with society,” says Jack Gregory, head of the Law Enforcement and Investigations Branch of the U.S. Forest Service’s southern region. The past 10 years have seen a marked increase in the number of violent incidents involving forest law enforcement — remarkable considering the number of USFS law-enforcement officers has declined by a third since 1993. There are now only 660 such officers to patrol some 193 million Forest Service acres, one for every 292,000 acres of land. And it can’t be easy striking terror in the hearts of evildoers while wearing a goofy hat.