Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Editorial: Public land debates take good turn (really??)

Good news this week from both Washington and Salt Lake City about public officials, and private landowners, who are wisely taking a step back from confrontational approaches to matters involving the stewardship of public lands in Utah. First came word that Utah’s congressional delegation has shelved, at least for the time being, a bill that would have commanded the U.S. Forest Service to sell 30 acres in Big Cottonwood Canyon for the construction of the controversial SkiLink gondola project. Then we learned that the special session of the Utah Legislature that is to convene today will be asked to repeal a fight-picking law, passed only four months ago, that purported to ban federal officers from enforcing state laws on federal property, such as land overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service. Advocates of each idea were heard to say that there are larger plans afoot and that their concerns would be better addressed by being part of a multi-player planning process than by short-circuiting those processes with legislative edicts. Good for them. Meanwhile, HB155, the new law that would have told federal lawmen to take a hike rather than enforce state laws on federal land, was quickly, and correctly, set aside by a federal judge. That action apparently moved the law’s primary sponsor, Republican Rep. Mike Noel of Kanab, to seek a do-over. And led Gov. Gary Herbert to put the proposed repeal on the call of today’s special session. In both cases, advocates for some unwise actions have stepped back from the cliff. And that’s good news all around...more

However, according to this AP story, Noel is defending his bill:

...But the Kanab Republican told The Associated Press that he didn't agree to repeal his measure. Noel declined further comment until the Legislature takes up the debate Wednesday. "I didn't agree to repeal it or do anything," Noel said Tuesday. "It's my bill and I'm not going to say anything about it." The government is waging a successful battle in federal court to overturn the state law, and a judge has issued an injunction to stop it from taking effect. The law aims to prohibit federal officers from trying to enforce state or local laws anywhere in Utah. Officers violating the law could be arrested and prosecuted. The Utah attorney general's office asserts in court documents that federal officers and rangers don't have the right to enforce state or local laws on national forest or federal range lands or in national parks. The federal government says Utah doesn't have the right to arrest or prosecute Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management rangers who enforce laws on federal lands, which make up two-thirds of Utah. The U.S. Department of Justice told The Associated Press in June that federal officers can issue speeding tickets and enforce Utah gun laws and hunting and fishing regulations on federal lands. Justice Department officials said federal officers enforcing state or local laws are acting under federal authority. They also said they can pursue a suspect onto state, local or private lands. Historically, federal officers in Utah could act only under the authority and control of sheriffs — they had to phone a sheriff before making an arrest, Noel said. He continued to make an argument why his law hamstringing federal officers is justified. In recent years, federal officers have been aggressively confronting people in the backcountry and issuing citations at the drop of a hat, he said. "Don't get on a stinking highway and use your GPS to track them down and give them a ticket for speeding — that happened to a lady in Kanab," he said. Noel said that "I like the least amount of law enforcement," and "a lot of people in BLM do not like this oppressive law enforcement."

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