Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Go Utah! - Bills aiming to curb federal clout in Utah are gaining momentum

    Agents in tactical gear and armed with assault weapons asking for your fishing license. Others appearing in camp at night to peer into your cooler, pulling you over for trivial traffic infractions, and arresting you for maintaining a trail.
    Confrontations such as these, instigated by federal employees with minimal law-enforcement training and accountability, are common on Utah’s public lands, according to testimony given last week in the Legislature’s latest installment of an anti-federal campaign that appears to be gaining momentum.
    Three southern Utah sheriffs leveled these allegations in support of HB155, sponsored by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, which would bar U.S. Forest Service officers and Bureau of Land Management rangers from enforcing the law in Utah except in emergencies or when a sheriff has given prior approval under cooperative agreements.
    HB155, which cleared the House on Monday, is just one of several pieces of legislation this session aimed at limiting or mitigating federal influence in the management of public land, natural resources and endangered species in Utah.
     "We are the decider. We have to act like it," Rep. Ken Ivory, the West Jordan Republican championing the transfer of federal lands to the states, told colleagues on the committee last week in debating HB155.
     At a previous meeting, he yoked the legacy of Frederick Douglass to his cause, quoting the early civil rights leader’s pronouncement that the federal government rarely cedes authority without a demand.
    Last week, Ivory and his allies unveiled two new demands in House resolutions, which do not carry the force of law, but express the Legislature’s position.
    One resolution, HJR14 sponsored by Ivory, says federal agencies cannot claim water rights. The other, HJR15 sponsored by Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, and passed out of committee Monday on its way to the full House, says they have so badly managed forests they now pose a "public nuisance and safety issue."
Both resolutions cite the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, stating that the states are "separate and independent sovereigns."
    And both resolutions amount to indictments against the Forest Service, alleging the agency has botched its duty to safeguard the public from wildfire, to treat forests that have burned and to take care of the land.Ivory’s water-rights bill, which the House natural resources committee is to consider Tuesday, asserts the Forest Service is pressuring grazing-allotment holders to sign over their water rights in a clear abuse of state sovereignty. It also alleges the agency has messed up forest hydrology by restricting grazing and logging, resulted in dangerous fuel loads and "inordinate water absorption for unhealthy vegetation densities."
    That committee on Monday endorsed Roberts’ HJR15 and its sister bill, HB164, which would enable local government officials to "mitigate" situations on federal land that they deem "may adversely affect the health, safety or welfare of the people of the municipality or county."

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