Office of U.S. Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO-02)
Yesterday, U.S. Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO-02), Chair of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, and Representative Tim Burchett (R-TN) introduced their bipartisan bill, the Tracking and Reporting Absent Community-members Everywhere (TRACE) Act. The bill would improve information sharing efforts for missing persons on Federal lands by making a series of improvements to the existing National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) database, including requiring the Department of Justice (DOJ) to include additional categories to record cases in which the person went missing on federal lands, such as descriptions of search efforts, cause of death (if remains are found), ongoing search efforts, descriptions of any belongings found, and location details.
Some estimates suggest that at least 1,600 people have gone missing on public lands, however without more accurate public data, that number is likely higher. Increasing tracking of accurate data on how many people go missing on public lands every year is crucial to aiding search and rescue efforts and resolving cases.
“As the Representative for a district that is over fifty percent public lands, and Chair of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, I firmly believe we must do more to protect every hiker, backpacker, explorer, and tourist that comes to our national parks for enjoyment and recreation. This bill provides a much-needed update to the existing missing persons database, increasing protections for Americans and ensuring that should tragedy strike — and an individual was to go missing — there are processes in place to properly aid in their search and rescue efforts,” said Representative Neguse.
“No missing persons case should go unsolved just because investigators couldn't easily access the information they need,” said Representative Burchett. “Improving the way our agencies record and share case details could save lives, and would also help the public gain more insight into how these situations are handled.”
Additionally, the TRACE Act will require the Departments of Interior, Agriculture, and Defense to input existing missing persons cases on their lands into the NamUs system, as the various bureaus currently use different reporting mechanisms. It also requires the DOJ to submit an annual report to Congress on the numbers of open cases, archived cases, and archived cases of persons missing on public lands or suspected of going missing on public lands from the previous year.
Read bill text HERE.
According to a National Missing and Unidentified Persons Systems (NamUs) report, over 600,000 people go missing in the United States annually. While the majority of these cases are resolved, tens of thousands of people remain missing every year. There are approximately 640 million acres of federal land which include national parks, national forests, and Bureau of Land Management lands. Much of this land contains isolated or rugged terrain which can make it especially difficult to find or identify people who go missing there. Over the past year, disappearances in National Parks and on federally owned lands have garnered national media attention, including that of a 22-year-old woman whose remains were found in Bridger-Teton National Forest. The estimated 1,600 cases of missing persons is an unreliably low statistic when considering the current gaps and inconsistent reporting on these cases. This crisis also disproportionately affects Indigenous persons — women and girls in particular.