Meet The “FBI” Of the National Parks Lands
In this latest episode of Listen, Ladies, host Maryalice Aymong interviews Beth Shott, investigator with the National Park Service Investigative Services Branch (ISB), a small contingent of agents responsible for protecting, investigating and prosecuting crimes that occur on national park land. They work all year around the clock, unless something unexpected happens, such as a government shutdown.
Below is an excerpt from her interview. To listen to the whole episode, download Listen, Ladies in iTunes.
Listen, Ladies: So to begin, the government shutdown has been going on for over three weeks at this point. Before we even get into what your job is and how you got there, can you give us an idea of what this situation means for you, your colleagues and the work that you would typically be doing right now?
Beth Shott: When we go into a government shutdown, the managers of the units determine whether or not your work requires to be kept on. For example, in the last shutdown, I was working a homicide case so (it) was deemed that I was going to keep working. What the managers do is look at the cases that the agents are actively working on, and they have to make a determination—they really don’t have a choice in this. They have to determine whether or not (workers) are allowed to be on furlough. We are required to put as many employees on furlough as we can. . . . Most criminal courts do not close, so the criminal realm continues, and crime continues whether or not there is a government shutdown. When they look at the caseload and the cases actively working, you can be considered a furlough employee or you will be expected to continue working. In this case, I am managing investigations right now so my boss said, “You can go on furlough because you are not working any active cases.” In the last one though, I was not furloughed. The hardest part is whether or not we are going to see a paycheck at the end of the day. For a lot of government employees that is really hard. We can go on unemployment, but most of us would just rather go back to work.
Listen, Ladies: I would like to get into a little bit about what you do, the real importance of it and the fact that a lot of people probably have not even heard of it. The first time I read about the Investigative Services Branch was in an article for Outside magazine, and I had never heard about it before. Can you tell us a little bit about what the ISB does and what the responsibilities are?
Beth Shott: The National Park Service has a pretty large juridical priority as far as being in the park or working at it. I will use Yellowstone National Park as an example. They are an exclusive federal jurisdiction, which means the state has no authority whatsoever to investigate or prosecute crimes that go on in that park. We have parks that have jurisdiction, like Yellowstone, which is exclusive all the way to proprietary, where the states have primary jurisdiction. We have over 400 park service units, so you can imagine all the people coming to the parks, people living in the parks. Some of them are like small cities. Just like a small city, we have crime that occurs. The investigative service branch (is) the FBI of the national parks. There are about 35 right now so it is a very small contingent, and what we do is investigate any crimes that occur on federal lands within the National Park Service. This could be anything from felonies, homicides, to resource crimes. For instance, we protect the redwood forests in California. People sometimes go in and chop down the redwood trees because they are so valuable financially to sell, and our sources are dwindling. So we stop poaching that way. We investigate animal poaching, those types of crimes. Because of our authorities, we may have in the middle of summer, thousands and thousands of visitors, plus hundreds of people that work in the park. But the state does not have jurisdiction. So we are kind of like the detectives of the city. We are non-uniformed, and the rangers are the 911 responders. They patrol the lands. They response to 911 calls. But when it comes to something that needs a little more in-depth investigation, the rangers usually do not have the capacity to do it because they are responding to 911 calls, search and rescues, medical calls, and things like that. So that is where the special agents of the National Park Service come in.
Listen, Ladies: For any listener or for just any female that is considering wanting to go into law enforcement or work at a National Park, would you advise that they go for it? Or would you have any words of caution or advice that you would share?
Beth Shott: I absolutely think that being a park ranger or a special agent of the national parks is one of the best jobs out there. It is hugely satisfying. It’s amazingly rewarding work. I went from working in advertising in New York. I then became a park medic. You can do those things in the Park Service. You can do search and rescue. You can dangle underneath a helicopter doing rescue if you want to get into that. There (are) really so many things that you can do in the National Park Service. I would highly encourage anyone who is interested, especially women, to go out and do those types of jobs. The challenge is that a lot of our parks are in these super- remote locations. I worked in Death Valley National Park for five years, and it is an amazing place, an amazing park, a beautiful resource, but it is out there. Las Vegas is two hours away. The closest grocery store is an hour away, so you have to be prepared for those types of challenges, and that goes for men or women. I think for (a) career for females, I don’t know if it can get much better.