Arizona Park "Most Dangerous" in U.S.

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"It's like predator-prey co-evolution," said Peter Rowlands, the park's chief of natural and cultural resources. "We come up with a measure, they come up with a countermeasure."

Training Deemed Inadequate

Traditionally, a ranger is expected to be a master of many trades. But park rangers enforce a broader range of laws than almost any other law-enforcement agency in the country—game laws, drug laws, health codes, the entire gamut of people crimes. In a place like Organ Pipe, they become de facto DEA, Customs Service, and Border Patrol agents.

The nature of park policing has changed, but critics say that ranger training has not kept up. Eggle had only been out of the academy for a couple of months, and unlike Customs Service or Border Patrol officers, he wasn't given the advantage of intensive field training or mentoring with an experienced officer.

Eggle's father, who was an infantry commander in Vietnam, says it all sounds wrenchingly familiar: the misguided policies, the muddled objectives, the government that sends its soldiers out without the resources to do their jobs.

"In Vietnam I faced political constraints that cost me a lot of young guys," Bob Eggle said. "My son also went into combat for his country—and because of politics he lost his life."

Eggle's parents say Kris should have been backed up by the military or trained in SWAT or special operations tactics, given the warlike conditions he faced every day.

In the wake of Eggle's death and the Interior Department report, Park Service officials say they are considering an array of changes aimed at protecting rangers and park visitors.

In July, Interior Secretary Gale Norton hired Larry Parkinson, a former FBI assistant director, as a deputy assistant secretary to shape law enforcement across the department. National Park Service Director Fran Mainella is planning to streamline the chain of command and patch holes in the ranger's ranks that she said are nearing critical proportions.

This month, the Park Service said it plans to construct an anti-vehicle barrier along the border in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which was named the most dangerous park in the nation by the National Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police.

The department also is preparing to ask Congress for more money to hire law enforcement officers, and revamp training. Under a proposed program, a graduating ranger would be assigned to a field training officer for a period of several months before being permanently assigned as a law-enforcement ranger. Under the new plan, rangers would also become more specialized: law-enforcement rangers would concentrate on crime, while interpretation and resource management rangers would perform more traditional duties.

Kris Eggle's mother, Bonnie Eggle, said that if Congress had answered earlier pleas for more rangers and resources, and a stronger border, her son might still be alive.

The Park Service's new deputy director, Donald Murphy, acknowledges that much of the criticism of park service policies is on target.

"We're understaffed, our training is substandard, and we haven't developed an understanding, among management and the general public, of what today's park ranger does. This is a wonderfully complex and rewarding job. Yes, park rangers are the good guys in the Smokey Bear hats who lead hikes and campfire talks. But they also risk their lives on a daily basis."

Read National Park War Zone, Tom Clynes's feature-length article on Organ Pipe National Monument and the crisis facing the U.S. National Park Service in the February 2003 issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine. Preview ››

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