In an announcement that was made at the end of November, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will unfold a reorganization plan that will remove the law enforcement privileges of park rangers. Under the new plan, the rangers will forfeit their power to arrest and carry a firearm.
In places like Devil’s Lake State Park, there are 4 park ranger positions, two of which are vacant, and between the last two, only one has law enforcement credentials, as do the park superintendent and assistant superintendent. Once the reorganization plan is enacted, all will lose their law enforcement credentials.
DNR spokeswoman Jennifer Sereno said “Devil’s Lake State Park rangers make about 11,000 contacts with park guests each year, though a majority of the interactions are to provide information for visitors.” So far in 2016, she said, “rangers have issued 271 citations at Devil’s Lake, with most occurring during the busy summer months.”
The new plan has taken on many local critics including a blogger who regularly writes about Devil’s Lake State Park.
Skillet Creek Media owner Derrick Mayoleth said that Devil’s Lake is not comparable to other state parks due to the 2 million visitors that the park receives every year. He is worried that these changes will put more pressure on the park’s already understaffed law enforcement.
“They’re dealing with drug deals, they’re dealing with violence – all the stuff a major city has to deal with,” he said. “They’re already outgunned, and now they’re taking away the rest of the rangers.”
Sereno stated that they will be looking to bring in more conservation officers to work shifts alongside the park’s staff to ensure everyone’s safety.
“Although rangers will no longer have law enforcement credentials in our new structure, the DNR will continue to have credentialed officers working at state parks provided by the department’s bureau of law enforcement,” she said.
Mayoleth does believe that the benefit to removing law enforcement credentials from rangers will allow them to put more professionals in environmental education and land management to enter the park system. “That’s a big positive,” he said.
Sereno said “park rangers will continue to perform all non-credentialed job functions, including initial response to visitor accidents and complaints, providing basic lifesaving support – including CPR and automatic external defibrillation – coordination of other emergency services and conflict resolution.”
Park Rangers will continue to provide recreational opportunities and management in state parks.
Sereno stated that the changes will be completed in phases and should conclude by 2018.
“We want to make these changes with minimal disruption to the parks and their guests,” she said. “We want to be careful that we get it right.”