Local sheriffs to feds: We got this

February 21, 2017 in News by RBN Staff


Source: The Lewiston Tribune | By ERIC BARKER

Giddings, Goetz contend they and their staffs would patrol federal lands better than national agencies

Two local sheriffs say a bill that would terminate the law enforcement functions of federal land management agencies and give local agencies the funding and authority to patrol federal land could produce better results and save money.

Idaho County Sheriff Doug Giddings and Clearwater County Sheriff Chris Goetz said they and their deputies have better relationships with people working and recreating on the federal land in their counties than do federal officers.

“My feeling is, as local law enforcement, we can better interact with the people and we are held a little more accountable,” Goetz said.

House Bill 622, introduced to Congress last month by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, would eliminate the law enforcement functions of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, the two agencies that manage the bulk of federal land in the West. It also would provide block grants to states so local law enforcement agencies could take up the slack.

“It’s time to get rid of the BLM and U.S. Forest Service police,” Chaffetz said in a news release. “If there is a problem your local sheriff is the first and best line of defense. By restoring local control in law enforcement, we enable federal agencies and county sheriffs to each focus on their respective core missions.”

Sheriff deputies already have authority to enforce state law and county ordinances on federal land. Chaffetz’s bill would expand their jurisdiction over a wide range of federal regulations such as enforcing trail and road closures, and making sure firewood cutters and mushroom pickers have the proper permits and river users are using fire pans.

Goetz said people who are cited or arrested for running afoul of the law would have an easier time negotiating the court system if the laws were enforced locally. For example, to fight a Forest Service or BLM citation, people currently have to go to federal court in Coeur d’Alene instead of the local county courthouse.

Giddings said local law enforcement is more accountable. Forest Service officers are not under the direct command of local forest supervisors. Instead, they report to higher ups at the agency’s regional and national offices. That can make it difficult for aggrieved locals to make complaints.

But Giddings there would be fewer complaints with local deputies patrolling the backcountry. He said locals tend to be more relaxed when dealing with Idaho County deputies versus federal officers.

“For the folks in Idaho County, that is 100 percent right. They do not appreciate the Forest Service law enforcement, period,” he said.

If the bill is adopted, Goetz said he would like the federal agencies to hang on to a few of their policing duties. For example, he said his deputies don’t have the experience or training to investigate and enforce things like commercial timber theft.

“If it was my decision to make, we would still have special investigators in the Forest Service, like a detectives branch, to do those kinds of cases.”

Some people say local law enforcement agencies have little experience in most of the things federal officers spend their time on.

“I don’t expect Rep. Chaffetz’s bill to get very far, nor do I expect overworked state troopers and county sheriffs to want to pay a lot of attention to federal land law, especially those that are outside their expertise, such as damage to archeological sites or unpermitted use of (off highway vehicles) on wilderness trails,” said Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics at Eugene, Ore. “That sort of permit compliance and enforcement of rules that are particular to federal lands is just not something local law enforcement is even trained in doing.”

The bill was introduced in the House Natural Resources and Agriculture committees and referred to the Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry.