Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2003 | 9:52 a.m.
The U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police listed the 10 most dangerous national parks in 2003:
Lake Mead National Recreation Area ranked fourth on the list of the 10 most dangerous national parks, according to a survey by a group representing park rangers.
U.S. Park Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police report cited criminal activity spilling over from the Las Vegas urban area as the main cause of danger.
A recent study by the Justice Department found that park rangers are 15 times more likely to be killed or injured on the job than agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) said that commissioned rangers were victims of violent attacks 98 times in 2002, with about one-third resulting in an injury. In 2001 PEER discovered that 104 violent incidents had occurred.
Last year rangers at Lake Mead responded to more than 20,000 incidents ranging from drunken driving to boating accidents to assaults. Of that number, 1,400 involved criminal investigations.
Lake Mead is not the only major park with a law enforcement shortage.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona is ranked as the most dangerous park in the nation, followed by Amistad National Recreation Area in Texas, both nestled along the border with Mexico.
In August 2002 Park Ranger Kris Eggle was shot and killed in the line of duty during a struggle with fugitives at Organ Pipe.
No park ranger has ever been killed at Lake Mead, Dey said.
Since security was heightened after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Interior Department has doubled the number of rangers in parks on the southern border of the nation and increased law enforcement training funds, said Dennis Burnett, law enforcement administrator of the National Park Service in Washington.
Equipment for national parks along the Mexico-U.S. border has been added, and Lake Mead boasts an armored car, actually a surplus vehicle once used at the Nevada Test Site where underground nuclear weapons experiments were once conducted, Dey said. "It was on the excess list, so we got it," Dey said.
Local park service officials are in the process of hiring two more rangers to augment the 38 commissioned rangers at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, but they say another 50 rangers are needed at the park. The park that ranks fourth nationally among the most visited national parks and recreation areas, park service officials say.
"The bottom line is how desperately we need rangers at Lake Mead," National Park Service spokeswoman Roxanne Dey said Monday.
Commissioned park rangers often serve double duty as firefighters or paramedics in times of emergency, she said.
The area includes 1.5 million acres of land, including historic Hoover Dam and nearly 750 miles of shoreline.
Congress mandated that the number of park rangers meet certain levels in 2002, but provided no funding.
The congressional mandate wasn't the first call for more rangers.
In 1997 an Interior Department audit recommended a substantial increase in rangers to fight growing crime at Lake Mead.
The Arizona Republic
contributed to this story.