Somewhere New Mexico native Smokey Bear is hiding in a den and wishing he worked for the friendly folks at the National Park Service rather than the U.S. Forest Service.
On a Saturday not quite three weeks ago four USFS law officers rolled into the Taos Ski Valley with their drug-sniffing dog disrupting the skiing, boarding and Breast Cancer Awareness Day. The show of force ended with a few piddly violation notices for possession of marijuana, one for prescription drugs and another for an equipment violation later called a cracked windshield.
Employee and visitor complaints about the officers ranged from lack of respect to rude and out of line. One parent said he was accosted with his 11-year-old daughter, and others alleged the dog that got in the face of young children had to be muzzled after it bit one of the USFS officers.
Here you have the perfect storm of a public-relations nightmare with USFS backpedaling and covering its como se llama.
The Albuquerque-based chief agent told the Taos News officers were just addressing reports of recreational use of alcohol and drugs but apologized for the tone of the raid. The same top cop told the Albuquerque Journal he didn’t know who authorized the raid and that it might have been a training exercise. A spokesperson for the Carson National Forest, which leases land to the world-known ski area, said no one there got advanced warning agents were coming.
Talk about running for the trees.
Former New Mexico governor and Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson lives at Taos Ski Valley and wrote an op-ed piece for the Journal. He couldn’t have been much blunter:
Since when did the Forest Service’s mission come to include dispatching armed agents and dogs halfway across a state to nail windshield violators?
If they needed to arrest five people for pot possession, they could have saved a trip and gone to any shopping center or public park in America. In fact, I suspect they could have rounded up as many “criminals” in their own parking lot.
Someone, somewhere in the Forest Service apparently woke up one morning and said, “Let’s go to Taos and have some fun harassing skiers and ski area employees who just might have a little marijuana or forget to fasten their seatbelts, and if we step on some constitutional rights, so be it.”
As a taxpayer and a resident who had the honor of serving as New Mexico’s governor, I want to know who came up with this stupid idea. More important, we all deserve to know exactly what overriding national interest is served by using the force of the federal government to frighten people, including little kids, who are just out for a day of skiing, to intimidate a business and its employees, and to create an illusion of crime where there is none.
This kind of federal thuggery happens every day in America, and it has to stop. The only threat to freedom and the common good on that Saturday at the Taos Ski Valley was the federal government … and that’s just wrong.
Today the good people at the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility came out with the best explanation yet for what happened. Protecting the public? Halting recreational use of pot and alcohol? A training exercise? How about an old-fashion last-century you’ve-got-to-be-kidding quota for writing citations? PEER divulged the USFS expects its law enforcement officers to write 100 citations a year with critics pointing to the Taos raid as the collateral damage of the policy.
PEER also released two USFS emails, one from the Southwest commander reminding officers of the quota set by brass at national headquarters and another after the Taos raid saying officer performance measures didn’t include quotas.
Regardless PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said Forest Service rangers deserve better than being reduced to “enforcement ATMs who only dispense tickets” and then added, “The only thing clear is that the Forest Service’s law enforcement program desperately needs a leadership upgrade.”
There is a real problem with pot plantations and meth labs on public lands, but I doubt those growers and cooks ski on the weekends or sign up for events promoting awareness of breast cancer.