Law Enforcement

R10 Law Enforcement Officers patrolling the forests

Forest Service law enforcement officers in Alaska patrol locations on almost 23 million acres of land. Some sites are best accessed by boat, others by snowmobile,and others by aircraft

Law enforcement plays an integral role in the management of National Forest System (NFS) lands. As a full partner with all management programs in the Alaska Region, the Law Enforcement and Investigations (LEI) team strives to serve people, provide for public and employee safety, and protect the resources and property under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service. The law enforcement organization is a diverse workforce committed to integrity, professionalism, and accountability.

Protecting the natural and cultural resources of this nation is no small task, and the challenges that the dedicated men and women in Alaska face everyday are enormous. Law enforcement operations that are considered routine elsewhere in the U.S. take on a different level of danger in the remote and rugged Alaska frontier. Unlike Forest Service officers in many other regions, Alaska officers face a range of challenging conditions including extensive travel by boat and plane, variable and extreme weather conditions, lack of improved roads and a scarcity of other law enforcement officers to back them up in remote areas.

Patrolling Forests

Patrol, usually by boat, and most recently with the use of an amphibious deHavilland DHC-2 Beaver, of the nearly 11,000-mile shoreline of the Tongass National Forest can be risky and difficult. Like the Tongass, extended boat and aircraft patrols are possible on the Chugach, however, the severe weather conditions associated with the Gulf of Alaska can make these perilous.

LEI staff must be prepared, use good common sense, and make sound judgments, in order to ensure their safety and complete their work. To improve officer safety, many operations are undertaken with law enforcement cooperators when personnel are available and policies allow. Forest Service officers engage in cooperative patrols with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Fish and Wildlife Protection Division, Alaska State Troopers, local police departments, and at times, Canadian regulatory agencies. Our officers are also commissioned Alaska State Peace Officers, offering them greater flexibility in accomplishing the overall law enforcement mission.

Evolving Responsibilities

LEI personnel in Alaska enforce the same Forest Service regulations and federal laws as their counterparts in the Lower 48, with one very notable exception. In Alaska, LEI is the single regulatory authority on NFS lands relative to federal subsistence wildlife and fisheries enforcement. As mandated by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) Title VIII, the primary focus of LEI in subsistence management is to protect the customary and traditional harvesting of fish, wildlife, and other natural resources, by qualified rural Alaskans. Since 1992, LEI has been actively involved in fulfilling this mandate.

This broadening of responsibility added a new level of complexity to the duties of Forest Service law enforcement in Alaska. It brought about an exponential growth in workload as well as significant political and socioeconomic pressures to be proactive in protecting the subsistence priority. In order to conserve healthy fish and wildlife populations for qualified subsistence users, current enforcement actions focus on regulating the non-qualified user while attempting to avoid over regulation of the qualified user.

Building Partnerships

Our practical approach to this "new" responsibility provides our officers unique and valuable opportunities to interact with Tribal governments, Alaska Natives, and rural residents in a positive and productive manner. It allows LEI to collaborate with a greater number of customers, both internal and external, and provides LEI the ability to work side by side with biologists and resource management specialists in the development and administration of a unique natural resource program.

Additionally, significant increases in tourism, outfitting/guiding, and population growth are requiring an entire restructuring of the law enforcement organization and a comprehensive assessment of "how we do business." LEI in the Alaska Region is building a competent and professional workforce with an infrastructure that will increase public and employee safety while responding to the growing needs of the Forest Service in this unique state.

It is the vision of the Alaska Region, Forest Service LEI team to be recognized as a leader in public safety and natural resource protection. By building internal and external collaborative relationships throughout Alaska, LEI is better equipped to help the agency care for the land and serve people.

LEI's deHavilland DHC-3 Beaver

Law enforcement officers often use an amphibious DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver to patrol the shoreline of the Tongass National Forest.

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