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Battle between Utah's rural counties and BLM intensifies

Published: Saturday, June 28 2014 6:02 p.m. MDT

Ongoing tension between multiple rural counties in Utah and the Bureau of Land Management's law enforcement division has erupted into another public fight. This time, commissioners pleaded their case against the agency in Washington, D.C.

, University of Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY — When Garfield County Sheriff Danny Perkins sat down in a conference room with the national director of the Bureau of Land Management's law enforcement operations, he had a series of numbers in his head.

He was face to face with Sal Lauro, a Washington, D.C., decision-maker who could make life somewhat easier back home in Garfield County, or keep it strained.

The numbers were plain: $70,000, 464, and zero.

"Since the first of July 2013 to the end of April 2014, I have spent $70,000 on helicopter time from the Department of Public Safety, 464 hours of actual boot time on the ground with officers on search and rescue operations on the (Grand Staircase-Escalante National) monument and I have been assisted absolutely nothing, zero, from the BLM."

Perkins accompanied six county commissioners from Iron, Beaver and Garfield counties to Washington, D.C., for a series of meetings last week to air complaints — chief among them the fractured and abysmal experience rural Utah has with top law enforcement officials from the Bureau of Land Management.

"We have absolutely no relationship with the BLM. We have tried; they seem to want to do their own thing," Perkins said. "They do not respect the authority of the sheriff at all. It is hard for them to accept that this sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in this county."

Accusations abound

The meeting in Washington happened the same day members of the Utah natural resources legislative interim committee hosted a public roundtable discussion in Salt Lake City with Juan Palma, director of the Utah BLM, and Kevin Rice, special agent in charge with the U.S. Forest Service in Salt Lake City, among others.

BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall said the legislative hearing did nothing to improve relationships.

"The only way to resolve this issue is to have serious dialogue and productive discussions and those two items were not present at that meeting," she said. "It was not the appropriate forum for how we are going to drive home a solution that is positive for everyone involved."

In the aftermath of embattled Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's showdown with the BLM in April, in the devolution of county law enforcement contracts with the BLM in Utah that were not renewed, rural counties are wary, frustrated, defiant and angry.

"We have many examples of the abuse and this militarization of the government agencies is a real problem," said Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock, who also traveled to Washington, D.C. "If this guy does something that blows up, we are all going to be on the TV. It is a scary scenario, especially in rural Utah."

The "this guy" Pollock is referring to is BLM's special agent in charge Dan Love, who commissioners accuse of spreading a culture of dismissiveness and arrogance among his coworkers. Pollock said county commissioners want Lauro to step in and find a solution.

"He has created a situation where they thumb their noses at us," Pollock said. "This starts at the top."

Defending the BLM

At the legislative hearing, Palma, the Utah BLM director, noted that Love answers to Washington, D.C. officials and is carrying out rules he didn't write. Palma defended Love as performing his job.

Love did not comment directly on the allegations regarding his working relationship with local sheriff's agencies, but offered this statement:

“Working together is the only way to navigate current issues and meet future law enforcement challenges, and I look forward to having the serious, productive discussions necessary to make that a reality.”

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