Monday, March 28, 2011

County lands in feud with Forest Service

Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell is waiting for his conscience to tell him: Should he start handing out tickets this week to U.S. Forest Service agents who are closing backcountry roads? Should he cut locks on gates that shut off access to public lands? The fact that a county sheriff is considering such actions against the federal government is a good indication that more than a run-of-the-mill dustup over road and trail closures on public lands is erupting in the far southwest corner of the state. Spruell and others are upset about road closures in the San Juan National Forest. But their ire over not being able to use certain trails is overshadowed by a broader issue. They cite various interpretations of the Constitution to argue that the federal government shouldn't have jurisdiction over forest lands in the first place and that the Forest Service is not a legitimate agency. "When I ran for office the No. 1 question I was asked was 'what are you going to do about the encroachment of the federal government?' The people here have just had enough. They are really tired of the federal government telling them what to do," said Spruell, who sits in his office beneath a sign reading, "People Protected by Pit Bull Spruell." The sign was given to him by members of the conservative 9-12 Patriots group. In recent weeks, protesters have marched on the local Forest Service and BLM office located between Cortez and Dolores, calling Forest Service officials "government pukes." Armed detractors of the federal agencies have set up a large display of signs near the office denouncing forest regulations and drawing attention with a stuffed, rifle-toting bear dangling from a rope. More than 170 residents last week jammed into a talk by two Utahns who claim in three self-published books that the federal government has far exceeded its original mission spelled out in the Constitution...more

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