SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that aims to "rein in" the police powers of Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service on federally managed lands sailed through a legislative committee with no debate and now advances to the full House for consideration.
The measure by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, comes after years of frustration expressed by several local sheriffs about the "unchecked" police powers of the agencies, which they contend are supposed to contractually enter into cooperative agreements with local police entities.
"There's no accountability, no line authority," former Millard County Sheriff Ed Phillips told members of the House Natural Resources Committee on Monday.
With its passage of the Federal Lands Management Policy Act in 1976, Congress intended for the federal government to contract with local law enforcement to carry out policing responsibilities wherever possible, Phillips said.
Instead, the advent of the '90s brought a prolific swell in the number of rangers who have become their own crime-fighting kingdom, Phillips said.
HB146 says that Utah does not "recognize" federal law enforcement authority of those agencies beyond what is "necessary" to manage, use and protect federally managed lands.
Phillips, joined by the current sheriffs of San Juan and Kane counties, said the issue has been one of such concern that it has been taken up by the 13-member Western States Sheriffs' Association but federal agencies have not been willing to budge.
Kane County Sheriff Lamont Smith said the federal encroachment has been so broad that federal rangers have taken to writing tickets for everything from expired registrations to broken tail lights to violators stopped on U.S. 89 near Lake Powell.
As an example of what they say is "encroachment," Noel and the sheriffs pointed to events like last spring's federal raid that led to more than two dozen arrests of people accused of stealing or possessing Native American artifacts and a May showdown between BLM agents and off-road enthusiasts at the Paria River corridor.