A law enforcement officer assigned to Utah's remote West Desert has a 3,000-square-mile "beat," the largest in the West and perhaps the nation, officials say.

Juab County commissioners signed a tri-county agreement at their regular meeting Monday, culminating months of negotiations to create the huge law enforcement territory.Beaver and Millard counties have signed similar agreements to provide law enforcement to the remote West Desert shared by the three counties. The agreement calls for an officer to be stationed in the territory and to be responsible for law enforcement there, under jurisdiction of the county sheriffs.

The 3,000-square-mile territory has 500 inhabitants.

Even more territory will soon be added, said Juab County Sheriff Dave Carter. He said negotiations are under way with White Pine County in Nevada to add its desert to the beat.

Ernie Booth, a former Juab deputy sheriff, has been hired to patrol the area, said Carter.

Under the interlocal cooperation agreement, each of the three counties pays part of Booth's salary, but the payment will be made by Millard County. Booth lives in Garrison, Millard County.

Booth's nearest back-up is in Delta, 90 miles away.

"This service is very valuable," said Carter. "People who live in the West Desert were letting small matters go until an officer visited, now they can get something done immediately. For example, if there were a minor accident, they would wait until someone came from the sheriff's office to report it. Now they call Booth right away."

Carter said Booth will be deputized in Nevada also to serve needs in the adjacent part of that state, which is actually part of the same desert. "White Pine County will sign a similar agreement as the one the three Utah Counties have signed," said Carter.

Under the agreement, Booth will answer to each sheriff on matters concerning the county where a particular law enforcement problem occurs.

"All the counties are set up the same," said Booth. Because offices are at the east end of each county, "if something happens it's three or four hours before somebody arrives to handle it."

Booth, formerly of Nephi, was hired several months ago to work in the county jail in Fillmore. He has also worked in the Juab County jail and been a deputy, was a Nephi police officer, Utah Highway Patrol trooper and worked with the state narcotics task force.

In addition, Booth is familiar with the area. Besides visiting it in his capacity as deputy, he has also helped the BLM count wild horses in the West Desert.

Booth has experience as a rodeo contestant riding bulls and team roping and thinks nothing of riding horses for hours if need be. "I know cattle and have worked on a cattle ranch," he said. He said that experience is helpful in the remote desert, where most of the roads are dirt and property line disputes still occur.

Booth will also need to investigate cattle rustling, a western theme all too real to ranchers in the area who are still hard hit by cattle thieves. Booth, who has his own horses, will be furnished with a used horse trailer.

Carter said Booth's help had already proved valuable. Recently a large fire which got out of hand and was burning toward Fish Springs. "It was invaluable to have Booth on hand," said Carter. "Because of his radio communication we knew just what equipment to dispatch and were able to send fire trucks from Delta."

Radio contact with Booth is excellent because of repeater stations. Carter said a full-time law enforcement officer is something the desert has needed for a long time.