Public lands: Utah congressmen try to strip federal land agencies of their law enforcement authority

Proposed measure is the latest attack on public lands by anti-environmental extremists in Congress

Western public lands are under assault by right-wing extremists. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

After failing repeatedly in their far-fetched attempts to claim state authority over federally managed public lands, extremist anti-environment lawmakers from the West are trying a new front in their continued attacks on the federal government.

A new measure introduced in the U.S. House would take away law enforcement authorities from agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. Instead, local sheriffs would be tasked with policing those lands.

The measure doesn’t make any sense from the get-go because public lands are managed under federal, not local, laws. For example in Colorado, even though possession and use of marijuana are legal for state citizens, it’s not legal on federally managed lands.

The so-called Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act of 2016 was by introduced by Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) along with the rest of Utah’s Republican delegation: Reps. Mia Love, Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart. The measure comes just a month after radical anti-federal criminals occupied a national wildlife refuge in Oregon.

It’s not really even worth repeating what the bill’s sponsors said to try and justify their ill-disguised attempt at yet another stab at legitimate federal control of public lands. Giving the right-wing anti-government fanatics a soapbox for their pathetic mewling doesn’t help at all. But it is worth noting the reactions to the bill from a few different sources.

The watchdog group Center for Western Priorities had this to say in a recent blog post:

“This is why Chaffetz’s bill is unconscionable: It gives explicit support to militant extremists who are threatening not only our parks and wildlife refuges, but also the lives of the people who protect those forests, lakes, and mountains on behalf of all Americans. Ken Ivory and Rob Bishop’s land seizure movement is permanently entwined with extremist ideologies like county supremacy and militant groups …”

In a Talking Points Memo post, Congressman Raúl Grijalva was quoted as saying Republicans are trying to “to assist those who break these laws – some of whom are also involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking and even terrorism – instead of working to conserve our natural resources for everyday Americans … Validating Cliven Bundy and his sons is not the way to improve land management and reduce conflict on U.S. public lands, but that is exactly what this Republican-led bill would do.”

Finally, the New York Times accused the Utah lawmakers of taking on “the criminal gang’s demands as their own cause.” The NYT editorial also correctly identified the roots of the public lands battle, pinpointing the conflict about being, in essence, about fossil fuel development: “But there’s lots of reason to believe their real aim is to take control over decisions on oil drilling and mining, commercial exploitation and privatization,” the Times wrote.




2 thoughts on “Public lands: Utah congressmen try to strip federal land agencies of their law enforcement authority

  1. 10 years ago I would have said that the people who want to put federal land under state control had a point. After 10 years of working with agency personnel across a vast area of Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Nevada, I think they are wrong in their approach. The real problem is a lack of communication and engagement on both “sides”, fueled by some developers and some folks who want to cheat the public out of appropriate fees for activities such as grazing. Federal agencies need to be more proactive in engaging communities, and ranching and energy interests need to be more active and available for meetings and outreach. I am actively working to foster these lines of communication and to study the resources so the best possible decision can be made in the interests of both the environment and the local communities. It is vital that we all work together to protect the land.

  2. I live in Utah and am in contact with (but not exactly sympathetic to) some of these people who want the public land. The State Legislature passed such a law, and now the rightwing-most group wants the legislation, Utah 2016 HB276, vetoed because it changes ownership from “one government to another (the state)” and weakens the control of the Sheriffs (giving some enforcement powers to Utah Department of Natural Resources). See Salt Lake Tribune Saturday March 26 Section B page 1. It turns out, btw, that some of the people who want to “take back our land” figure it belongs to them anyhow, as they’ve been using it for 100 years….and it most certainly doesn’t belong to people in NYC.

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