DOINews: BLM: The Original Rangers

Last edited 09/05/2019

One of the many things the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 did to change the BLM into the agency we know today was to give the secretary of the Interior the authority to establish criminal regulations – and to hire law enforcement officers to enforce those laws. In short, it was the beginning of the BLM ranger program we have today.

Group photo of the original 13 BLM rangers

The original 13 BLM rangers gather for a group photo during their swearing-in ceremony in 1978. (First row kneeling, from left: Barry Ashworth, El Centro; Bob Schroeder, Ukiah; Mike McColl, Ridgecrest; Ken Kleiber, El Centro; Bob Conquergood, Ridgecrest; and Lynell Schalk, El Centro. Second row standing, from left: Lou Bolls, Bakersfield district manager; Gerry Hillier, Riverside district manager; Bill Vernon, El Centro; Dave Krouskup, El Centro; Butch Hayes, Folsom; Renee Castillo, Ridgecrest; Steve Smith, California State Office; Jerry Needy, Barstow; Lew Kirkman, Barstow; and Ed Hastey, California state director.

Prior to FLPMA, the BLM had long known that it needed a uniformed law enforcement presence on the public lands, but it didn't have the means to accomplish it. There were some experiments with "Butterscotch Rangers," as they were called for the color of their uniform shirts, and other non-law enforcement positions that focused on education and awareness. But it was always clear that while those things were a good foundation, they were ineffective if not used in conjunction with law enforcement.

Off-road vehicles doing damage to public lands

Much of the need for rangers was to stop damage to the public lands done by unregulated use of off-road vehicles.

FLPMA was signed in October 1976, but the caution employed while implementing such a new program meant that it wasn't until April 7, 1978, that the first BLM rangers were sworn in. Those 13 were spread around California, with all but three stationed in the California Desert Conservation area. Three rangers were stationed in Sacramento, Folsom, and Ukiah, Calif. But at the time, the Interior secretary would only allow rangers to use their law enforcement authority in the CDCA. So when at home, they did non-law enforcement duties.

The original 13 rangers raising their hands as they take the oath of office.

The original 13 BLM rangers take their oath of office on April 7, 1978.

Photos of BLM rangers inspecting resource damage, inspecting an archaeological site, and looking at a damaged sign.

Left: BLM ranger Bill Vernon inspects resource damage. (Vernon retired in 2001 as the special agent in charge of Wyoming.) Top right: BLM ranger Lynell Schalk inspects an archaeological site. (Schalk retired in 2001 as the special agent in charge for Oregon/Washington.) Bottom right: El Centro BLM ranger Bob Conquergood looks at a damaged sign.

The number of rangers grew slowly at first and was still limited to the CDCA; but in April 1982, the Interior secretary delegated the authority to expand the ranger program to other states. Since that first swearing-in ceremony, the BLM has issued law enforcement delegations to approximately 705 other rangers and special agents. Today there are about 250 rangers and special agents on the job, with positions in every District and State Office.

BLM ranger standing beside a brown BLM pickup truck.

California State Office state staff ranger Steve Smith stands beside one of the original ranger patrol vehicles – "The Rootbeer Fleet."

This month marks 37 years of BLM rangers being out protecting the public lands – and their users. Those original 13 opened the door – now it's up to the rest of us that have followed to continue their work.

Story by Jason Caffey, BLM National Chief Ranger

May 11, 2015

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