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Federal Lands: Adopting a Formal, Risk-Based Approach Could Help Land Management Agencies Better Manage Their Law Enforcement Resources

Four federal agencies--the Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service in the Department of the Interior--are responsible for managing federal lands, enforcing federal laws governing the lands and their resources, and ensuring visitor safety. Illegal activities occurring on these lands have raised concerns that the four agencies are becoming less able to protect our natural and cultural resources and ensure public safety. GAO examined (1) the types of illegal activities occurring on federal lands and the effects of those activities on natural and cultural resources, the public, and agency employees; (2) how the agencies have used their law enforcement resources to respond to these illegal activities; and (3) how the agencies determine their law enforcement resource needs and distribute these resources. GAO reviewed agency documents, interviewed agency officials, and visited or contacted 26 selected agency units.

Recommendation: To help the agencies identify the law enforcement resources they need and how to distribute these resources effectively, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief of the Forest Service and the Directors of the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service, respectively, to each take the following action: Adopt a risk management approach to systematically assess and address threats and vulnerabilities presented by illegal activities on federal lands. The approach can vary among the agencies but should be consistent within each agency and should include (1) conducting periodic risk assessments to identify and rank threats and assess agency vulnerabilities and (2) establishing a structured process for using the results of these assessments to set priorities for and distribute law enforcement resources to best protect natural and cultural resources, as well as public and agency employee safety. In developing a risk management approach, the agencies should consider conducting the risk assessments at regional or state levels and using those assessments to inform decisions about law enforcement resource needs and how to distribute those resources across the country.

Click here to access the complete GAO Report - GAO-11-144 December 17, 2010

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