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Battle between Utah's rural counties and BLM intensifies

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

Pollock said county officials want action, not explanations.

His county has joined with Carbon, Beaver, Piute and Iron counties in the passage of resolutions declaring federal law enforcement authority is not recognized in their jurisdictions.

Pollock said the resolutions put the federal government on notice there will be no tolerance for overwhelming force and intimidation.

"We feel like they are a threat to the people in our county," Pollock said. "A resolution is exactly that; easily converted into county ordinance which we are prepared to do if something is not resolved. Our message is you have a serious problem, let's work this out before we take it to county law."

Armed agents

The rising anxiety over "armed" federal regulatory agencies is not unique to Utah, with Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, highlighting incidences that have happened in Los Angeles and at a mining operation in Alaska.

Earlier this week Stewart unveiled legislation that aims to "de-militarize" federal regulatory agencies and prevent them from having armed SWAT teams.

"I understand that federal agents must be capable of protecting themselves. But what we have goes far beyond providing the necessary protection," he said. "...Not only is it overkill, but having these highly armed units within dozens of agencies is duplicative, costly, heavy-handed, dangerous and destroys any sense of trust between citizens and the federal government."

But BLM Utah spokeswoman Megan Crandall said any attempt to solve on-the-ground issues is compounded by meetings like the recent legislative hearing and the anti-federal government resolutions by the counties.

"It is frustrating as we work to identify the best possible path forward for everyone when some of the entities we are trying to work with consistently feel the need to poke us in the eye and then complain we are not working with them," she said.

Perkins and Pollock point out that it's been impossible to have any sort of "productive" relationship with the BLM because of what they called the confrontational behavior they don't experience with other federal agencies.

"I got a really good working relationship with the U.S. Forest Service and I have always had a good relationship with the (national) parks people," Perkins said. "The problem is with the BLM."

Perkins said that he has three national park rangers who are deputized in Garfield County and a similar arrangement with the U.S. Forest Service, but he wouldn't entertain that arrangement with the BLM because of the conduct of the agency's officers.

"There's no way in the world I would consider deputizing the BLM officers I have in this county — none," he said. "I have had the folks in northern Utah tell me they'll never come back to my county because of how they were treated by the BLM officers at the monument."

Perkins noted that BLM officers have stopped motorists for having gun racks and have demanded to look in coolers in campsites, among other things.

Cancelled contracts

The counties and the state of Utah believe Love "cancelled" $244,000 worth of BLM contracts with multiple rural counties out of retaliation for a state law that attempted to rein in federal law enforcement authority on federal lands.

Crandall said the counties and state are wrong.

"Ultimately, BLM-Utah's law enforcement service contracts are designed to address BLM-specific goals and concerns, to maximize the safety of people visiting public lands and to ensure resources are appropriately protected," she said. "These contracts are not based on a relationship— positive or negative — with one, single person."

Crandall said that a review team looked at the contractual arrangements, determined improvements were necessary and decided to let the contracts lapse. Love, she stressed, was not part of that decision.

"It has been intimated that allowing the contracts to expire was retaliatory, and I can tell you unequivocally that is not true."

Any decision to renew arrangements with local sheriff agencies will be made at the Washington, D.C., level, not by the Salt Lake City office, she said.

Carbon County Commissioner Casey Hope said he and other elected officials have taken some criticism for their "anti-federal" resolution, but he said critics don't understand what happens on the ground.

"There's a big misunderstanding on whose duties are what," he said. "If you go out and get in a wreck, hurt or lost, it is not the BLM who goes out and finds you, it's Carbon County sheriffs, Carbon County Search and Rescue. They are the agencies that go out and find you and help you. Nothing has changed. "

Carbon County's resolution, he said, is an attempt to ward off problems being encountered elsewhere in the state.

"We are trying to make sure we don't have those kinds of problems, those kind of heated debates. The BLM has specific duties and their duties are to look after the land. We'll take care of the law enforcement."

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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