GAO Report: Public Lands Users Beware

A new report from the Government Accountability Office indicates that persons using public lands in the U.S. are faced with an increasing risk of harm from armed individuals involved in illegal border activity and marijuana cultivation.

The report, states, "Some remote federal lands along the U.S. border are often used to smuggle drugs or humans into the country. According to officials, such illegal activities can damage sensitive wildlife habitat and threaten public safety."

In referencing how the increased incidence of clandestine marijuana growing operations on federal lands threatens the safety of the public and employees--including hunters--in those areas, the GAO reports, "Although most such marijuana cultivation has historically occurred on the West Coast, intensive cultivation--in many cases by large-scale international drug-trafficking organizations--has spread to other regions of the country in recent years.

"Hunters, hikers, and other members of the public, as well as agency employees, have been shot, shot at, kidnapped, and threatened with violence. Although such violent encounters are rare, law enforcement officials at several units we visited said that marijuana growers have become more violent in recent years."

The GAO's assessment was based on interviews with law enforcement officials and land managers from 26 agency units in the U.S. Department of Interior (Interior) and in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).