Working for the Guv - The DOPOR Years

Every time the knee jerks, a government worker gets kicked. (Anonymous Curmudgeon)

The Great Chicken Raid of 2013 commenced as follows: In August of 2013 armed and armored EPA personnel made unannounced visits to miners in the area of Chicken Alaska. I found this to be distressing for at least two reasons.

As a self-employed businessman I can identify with the miners. I might have at least entertained fantasies of disarming the intruders, shooting out their tires and ordering them to walk back to Anchorage.

On the other hand, as a former government employee oftentimes tarred with the brush of "government overreach", I know this event is another strike against the good work done by government workers and against their already soiled reputation.

Many of those who know me might be surprised to discover that I was once a government worker. After all, I'm not exactly a organizational man nor a team player. Those who knew me "back then" might affirm that I never was. I was employed by the State of Alaska, Division Of Parks and Outdoor Recreation (abbreviated as DOPOR by some wags) from 1976 to 1990.

Government administrates and delivers services. Often the culture of those who administrate and those who deliver are at odds. "DOPOR" is what we who delivered used when we were speaking of those who administered. Although there was no proof that anyone in administration was actually using dope there was plenty of evidence that they were indeed “dopey”.

Mandates from administration were often made without any direct knowledge of what went on in the field and even more often were enacted without any feedback from those who worked in the field as I did.

I was a custodian. That is the highest term for anyone who cares for and protects the property and the safety of the public. In order of priority the two most important responsibilities were the safety of the public and the integrity of the resource (the public property). Often the enforcement of regulations was done by asking campers to stop doing things that threatened either safety or resources.

A most iconic response from a camper was heard when a Park Ranger and I observed an individual standing in front of his motor home, back to the road and in view of an outhouse, relieving himself. When the Ranger spoke to this individual he responded with "I came to Alaska to piss where I please."

When resistance was shown to the enforcement of campground regulations, the most common responses went something like one of the following examples: "I'm free to do what I want. I'm a taxpayer"; "I wish you government thugs would mind your own business"; "I'm born free, go away" and "I'm a freedom-loving patriot, what's your problem?" Usually "free" or "freedom" was in there somewhere.

Groups of motorcyclists played memorable roles in two events that threatened the public safety. I too was a player. This was before white collar professionals had embraced the Harley-Davidson. At this time the groups that I was familiar with were primarily composed of veterans. Veterans of the Viet Nam War were pretty much treated like crap. Many of them joined biker gangs for the camaraderie. I had become familiar with such fraternities. In fact I was at times accused of looking like some of them. In my opinion, they turned out to be more complicated than just a bunch of ruffians.

The first incident occurred when I received word that such a group had occupied a campsite at one of the campgrounds I maintained. Apparently their presence and appearance was scaring off other "more respectable" types. Like a Texas Ranger sent alone to quiet the prison riot I rode alone to quell the disturbance.

I entered the campground driving a lumbering multi-purpose truck. It was a combination trash compactor, firewood box and traveling tool shed. I proceeded to park next to the encampment of scruffy characters. I dismounted from my DOPOR vehicle and walked into the midst of the crowd. In those days I not only had a beard longer than what I wear today but I had hair. Lots of hair. I was wearing a t-shirt and blue jeans. I scratched my head, stroked my beard and announced that "you are the ugliest and scariest bunch of 'fellas' that I have seen in a long time." Only I didn't say "fellas", I used the oedipal expletive. One can get a positive response if an expletive is used with the right tone.

I heard some cheers. I was offered a beer, which I declined. My further interchange with the “Angels of Hell” referred in the vernacular to their former service and the implication that they had once held jobs that were about protecting citizens. I introduced the possibility that they were scaring the you-know-what out of their fellow campers.

All reports were that after I left, the general drunkenness and lewd behavior was replaced by guitar strumming and flute playing.

Later I was a first responder in a remote area.

While driving between campgrounds I came upon an accident where a motorcyclist had just been run over by a semi truck. I immediately began life support measures. The driver of the truck and the victim's companion were in shock. Shortly after I began CPR a number of employees of a large hospital in Anchorage appeared. They had been partying nearby. I found myself with about six nurses and two doctors. The nurses were great and contributed to the rescue activity and demonstrated great resourcefulness.

The doctors flailed about like fish out of water, gave irrelevant orders which were respectfully ignored and smoked near spilled fuel, which could not be ignored. Then the remainder of the group that the victim belonged to showed up on motorcycles. Like the company in the campground, they were a tough lot and I sensed anger towards the driver. I made contact with the individual who I judged to be their leader and convinced him that any action towards the driver would be “unhelpful”.

A State Trooper and the local EMT crew came last. The trooper was out of control. He was abrasive, unsympathetic and screamed at the bikers for handling a portion of the victims bike. He bluntly ordered me out of the area without as much as a thank you. Before leaving I made contact again with the group leader and suggested that as much as he might entertain the idea, beating up the Trooper wouldn't be helpful either. He agreed but suggested that he enjoyed the thought. I concurred.

Push backs to enforcement – which were rare in the beginning - began to increase over time. ANILCA contributed to the escalation.

Next - Workin' For The Guv - The Wind From The Right