Cops, Guns and the Lost Idea of River Protection | Sports Watch
by Gus Jarvis
May 16, 2008 | 1254 views | 11 11 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
RANGER READY - Gus Jarvis (left) and a fellow river conspirator faced the strong arm of the law on a recent river trip. (Photo by Susan Pleiman)
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This week, I am going to turn by back to the national sporting scene. It’s river season here in the West and I have some things to get off my chest.

As this winter’s abundant snowpack begins to provide life to the rivers in and around the Colorado River watershed, boaters of all types are spending as much time on the water as possible – I know I am. And in doing so have noticed a disturbing occurrence – an overabundance of gun-carrying cops patrolling these recreational river wonders.

Last week, I took off with a group of friends to raft the Cataract Canyon section of the Colorado River in Utah. Most of this section of the river travels through Canyonlands National Park.

After putting on the water, it became apparent very quickly that we were now on the National Park Service’s turf, heavily patrolled by their hot-dog rangers. Throughout our six-day journey on the park, we were incessantly harassed by a park ranger, one whose communication skills were anything but eloquent.

Here’s how our first conversation with this ranger started after he pulled up in his oversized diesel motor boat as we sat eating breakfast in all the canyon’s glory.

Ranger With Gun: “Who is the permit holder here?”

Permit Holder: “I am.” (Walks over to greet the ranger who is not surprisingly wearing hazer cop glasses like those found on the set of Reno 911.)

Ranger With Gun: “You see this?” (Points to Permit Holder’s name on permit.) “This is who is going to get a ticket when any one of these guys (points to us) screws up. Got it?”

Permit Holder: “Yes.”

The tone of our subsequent conversations with the ranger did not improve. Instead of acting like he cared about the delicate environment surrounding us, the cop simply wanted to assert his authority. And with a gun on his belt, he certainly had it.

Two years ago, in the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, some friends of mine were checked by another so called “law enforcement official” from the Colorado Division of Wildlife. This time, I actually felt threatened when he pulled up in an inflatable kayak and the first thing he did was pull his pistol and lay it across his kayak on top of a white towel. Once the gun was securely in place – resting on the rocking boat – he proceeded to check for fishing licenses.

One guy didn’t have one and as the conversation got heated and the ticket was issued the cop had moved almost 30 yards away from his boat – and his gun. Gun safety anyone?

An associate of mine tells me that in his Colorado fishing experience, “at least twice a ‘law enforcement official’ has asked for a fishing license with a hand hovering over his gun.”

Is that really necessary?

And let us not forget last spring on the Dolores River when another “law enforcement official,” this time from the Federal Bureau of Land Management, busted a number of boaters for smoking pot on the beach before their put-in. Some of those present during the bust said the officer (who didn’t check for proper river equipment, i.e. fire pans, groovers, etc.) was lurking in the bushes the night before with his nose to the air searching for the scent of pot like a beagle in an airport.

Law enforcement on our rivers is getting away from its main purpose. And there are too many damn guns to patrol people armed with fishing rods, boat pumps and empty Bud cans.

At any give time, on any given river in Colorado, a boater enjoying the recreation this state has to offer can be checked and questioned by personnel from at least three different organizations – all of whom carry guns. First, the Colorado State Parks and Recreation Department will question you over the number of band-aids in your first aid kit. Then, a BLM officer can question you if you brought a groover. And finally, a DOW officer can question you about your fishing license.

To put it simply, there are too many cops with guns patrolling people who are generally trying to get away from cops with guns. And the problem with this may lie with President Bush in his antics to create “national security” after 9-11. Right now, any cop from any organization has jurisdiction over, well, everything.

But the travesty of this situation isn’t just the hardships put on recrationalists. It lies in the fact that a position was once filled by those who have studied river ecologies and have a natural love of river ecosystems is now being filled by heavy-handed, law enforcement types who don’t know the difference between cryptobiotic soil and beach sand, but can tell you the range of their .45 mag.

The federal/state government agencies who are charged with protecting these rivers, which are so important environmentally as well as financially, should rethink who they hire. It is time to go back and get those who are educated in environmental sciences patrolling rivers. Rangers, in most instances, shouldn’t have to carry a gun and their past experience should not be just the police academy or working in a heavy patrol unit in Afghanistan. Our rivers are not Hogan’s Alley and shouldn’t remind us of 1984.

Although few and far between, I know there are still dedicated river rangers out there who truly care about the river and aren’t afraid to check to make sure everybody is using the river in a clean, respectable way through friendly conversation. I commend you for that and I appreciate the work you do. I am sure, because you are just a ranger – not a “law enforcement official” – and don’t carry a gun, you are paid less.
Comments
(11)
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Beanzie
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June 05, 2008
I get the ticket...you're an idiot.
I get the ticket
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May 31, 2008
The purpose of any ranger is aiding with the protection of the resource. Does the Humpback Chub require gun protection to prevent its extinction? Does cryptobiotic soil preservation require a ranger with a gun? These questions say much about our current approach to park management and park priorities.
Beanzie
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May 29, 2008
Proofinpicture, get with the program here. Try to keep up. There was never a question of whether or not the Ranger's carried guns. They do. Gus raises the question of whether brandishing a firearm is necessary or not, and are these Ranger's taking their positions because they care about the enviroment and making sure the rules are being followed, or are they quite simply river cops who like to bust chops. I think they are doing a fine job, and there are plenty of folks who agree with me. Gus is just whining because these Ranger's don't treat him like he is accustomed to. He needs to realize that not everyone on the river is as one with the earth as he and his band of hippies are. He needs to toughen up. But he's young. He'll come around. And just because a Ranger is stading in his boat with his hands on his hips does not make him an ass like you so eloquently put it. You could toughen up yourself whoever your are.
proofinpicture
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May 29, 2008
Just in case there was any doubt of the park ranger's (Beanzie, I would like to point to his pose in the picture that goes along with this story. He's standing up in the boat, hands on hips, gun visible from even this distance. He just looks like as ass. In case you didn't believe Gus (Beanzie).
Fiddlehead
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May 20, 2008
It sounds like Beanzie is in need of vacation, perhaps we should send him down a river?

a good float was and always will be a great cure for rage.
Hook'em
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May 20, 2008
I also agree w/ gus. Beanzie, you need to realize that some of these officers DO in fact abuse the small bit of authority that they are given. You mention that the river is now overrun by hippies which is the need for gun totting Rangers. What kind of hippies are overrunning the river? Are these dangerous hippies? I have never, and have yet to meet, someone who said, 'The river is no longer safe w/ all of those dangerous hippies running around.' Or, 'Officer, please help, I just got mugged by a gang of hippies.' Open your eyes Beanzie, and stop talking your nonsense. Peace
Beanzie
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May 20, 2008
Listen allaboutbalance, I was floating the Colorado before they damed Glen Canyon. And the Rangers didn't need guns back then because there wasn't an over abundance of hippies like you. The overwhelming majority of funding to pay their salaries and 'take care of the river' does not come from permits or fees so your point is wrong. Why don't you go back to Jersey or Mass and find your balance there because you've never been accosted by a Ranger and you and Gus should go hug each other around a tree.
allaboutbalance
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May 20, 2008
I agree with Gus, and question whether Beanzie has ever been on a river trip, much less been accosted by a "river cop." If he has, he wouldn't talk that way. I believe that patrolling the rivers has its place, but the effort should be river conservation, not making money or proving that everyone who goes on river trips smokes pot and uses the bathroom behind trees and leaves it there. If they succeed in proving that everyone on the river is a disrespectful, undeserving citizen, then they won't have any money to take care of the rivers that we all want to enjoy!
Beanzie
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May 20, 2008
Gus,

The men and women in law enforcement put their lives on the line daily and far be it from you, a beat writer, to question their privelage to carry a firearm. They have been trained how to use them and just because they have a gun on them does not mean they are going to shoot you. Grow up. It's hard work dealing with all the hippies on the water. If a firearm on their belt keeps them from getting some lip from some hair farmer I say good for them. What do you have to worry about? Get your permit, obey the rules, and say thanks for putting your butt on the line day in and day out.
Beanzie
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May 20, 2008
Gus,

The men and women in law enforcement put their lives on the line daily and far be it from you, a beat writer, to question their privelage to carry a firearm. They have been trained how to use them and just because they have a gun on them does not mean they are going to shoot you. Grow up. It's hard work dealing with all the hippies on the water. If a firearm on their belt keeps them from getting some lip from some hair farmer I say good for them. What do you have to worry about? Get your permit, obey the rules, and say thanks for putting your butt on the line day in and day out.
LetUsBe
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May 20, 2008
I agree

I don't go on river trips to be hassled by enforcement officers. Keep normal river rangers on the river and the cops on the crime beat in the city