For national park officials, 2012 was a particularly violent year. Rangers, wildlife refuge workers and park police experienced 38 percent more threats and assaults from visitors than in 2011, according to a report by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
The year began particularly tragically with the death of Park Ranger Margaret Anderson on New Year’s Day in Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. She was shot by Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, who avoided SWAT teams and dogs for a day, but eventually died of exposure. Anderson was the first ranger killed on duty in a decade.
While not every confrontation ended so badly, more than a quarter of the 591 reported incidents involved violence. (Statistics came from six land and water agencies, including the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.) This percentage went up when considering the 100 incidents against U.S. Park Police—more than half involved violence, including one heinous case when a drunk driver attempted to run over an officer.
Other incidents included a threat to burn down a Texas wildlife refuge visitor center, an attempted shooting on a land management worker in Arizona, assaults on law enforcement officers and more. Officials cite several possible reasons for the uptick in violence, including growing conflicts over land management policies, the increased use of public lands for meth labs and marijuana plantations (yes, that's really a problem) and the use of off-road vehicles deeper in the backcountry.
Though some have theorized that it could be linked to more liberal rules regarding carrying loaded firearms in national parks and refuges (per controversial 2010 policy changes), no clear connection has been established. Either way, the trend is depressing, to say the least.