House Bill Could Terminate Law Enforcement Functions of Forest Service and BLM
During the Republican National Convention, there was talk of turning over some Federal lands to state control. One bill pending in Congress is proposing to let local law enforcement replace federal law enforcement agencies.
This spring in the US House, HR 4751 was introduced, which would terminate the law enforcement functions of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
The bill was filed just a few weeks after the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Bill co-sponsor, Republican Congressman Dan Newhouse of Washington state says the plan calls for those federal law enforcers to be replaced by local ones, like county Sheriffs.
“In most instances around the country, county sheriffs departments are accountable to local people. The county sheriff is elected by citizens of the county. There is a level of trust in local law enforcement.”
Newhouse says the measure was a reaction to calls from local constituents, complaining about interactions with federal law enforcement agencies. The proposal calls for block grants to be provided to local law enforcement agencies to be able to add additional personnel to patrol federal lands. For some local law enforcement, that could add hundreds of square miles of Federal forest or BLM lands to their jurisdiction.
One example would be the Ferry County Sheriff’s office in northeast Washington. Sheriff Ray Maycumber says incidents like the Malheur occupation and the Bundy ranch standoff in Nevada may have been solved earlier had local sheriffs been in control rather than the feds.
“They have not done a lot to inspire trust in the people that they serve. They need to remember they serve the people just like I do. And its part of my responsibility to hold them accountable within Ferry county. That’s why the law and the hierarchy of authority is set up the way that it is. So the people locally have that authority through their sheriff.”
Maycumber believes with federal funding his office could hire two deputies to handle the job of patrolling the huge Colville National forest in his county’s boundaries, but is not so sure about being responsible for certain types of federal rules regarding forest use, like unauthorized timber harvest.
“When it comes to those laws or those rules that the forest Service put out, enforcement becomes tricky because the authority that is granted to me is granted by the state of Washington. And I don’t know if the county would need to pass ordinances that mirror certain rules , or if there would be room within us passing ordinances to process on the civil or criminal side that met with the Forest service’s expectations.”
The proposed legislation is not finding much support from those who are currently in charge of BLM and Forest Service law enforcement. Nate Cotura is president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, who says he believes any local law enforcement would find themselves overwhelmed and unprepared for the type of issues they would have to deal with compared with federal law enforcement officers currently serving in those positions.
“They deal with archeological resources [and] timber theft. They deal with catastrophic wildlife investigations and international drug trafficking. So these agents have the training, they're equipped, and have the knowledge to work these type of investigations. I doubt very much that a local sheriff, though well trained themselves, they don’t have the expertise.”
Cotura says the bill’s prime sponsor, Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah, is responding to efforts by the Western States Sheriffs Association, which does not recognize the authority of federal law enforcement on lands inside their state.