Horde of New Federal Agency Rules
Triggers 'Police State' Accusations

 

A proposal by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to increase its police powers in the West triggered a torrent of protest this week in Nevada's Elko County and the state of Idaho.

Amid charges that the BLM was seeking a "police state," the federal agency agreed to extend until February 5 the comment period on the proposed new regulations. The originally announced deadline had been January 6.
Entered in the Federal Register on November 7 -- two days after the election -- but only brought to widespread public attention this week, the new rules were explained by the BLM as a consolidation of existing regulations "which are often difficult to understand" or which "are no longer applicable."
However, critics charged -- and a BLM law enforcement official acknowledged -- that at least some of the "consolidated" or "plain English" regulations were in fact new.
While BLM Deputy Chief of Law Enforcement Dennis McLane -- speaking from the bureau's national Inter Agency Fire Center, in Boise, Idaho -- denied the agency was attempting to expand its underlying authority or add law enforcement personnel, he did say that the agency was expanding the number of things it was prohibiting.
"In some instances in this rule-making there are a few new prohibited acts," he



said. "But ... those are subject to public review, [a] public comment period, and [people are] allowed to give us feedback on whether we should or should not regulate that activity."
McLane said the new rules had gone through four drafts and had been in the works for three years.
In Elko, attorney Grant Gerber told Wednesday's Elko County Commission meeting that the BLM proposals would change the agency definition of a road in a way which would allow it to exclude the public from much of the countryside.
In the proposed changes, listed in the Register on pages 57,605 through 57,621, the BLM redefines a highway, road or trail as a "way or place that is publicly maintained" (emphasis added) and open to the public for vehicular travel without regard to which public agency has jurisdiction, operates or maintains it."
Gerber said that could mean all the little two-track roads in Nevada would not be considered roads and could be closed by the BLM.
The attorney -- legal counsel for the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a national organization of off-road users -- also noted the newly


 
proposed rules reintroduce the previously BLM-abandoned regulatory category of a "primitive area." This, he said, could be an effort to further restrict multiple use of BLM lands.
According to the Register, a primitive area would be defined as "an area that is composed of natural, undeveloped lands that are essentially unaffected by civilization and located where the natural environment can be preserved by management of recreation activities and exclusion of additional roads (emphasis added) and commercial developments."
At the same meeting, Gene Gustin, chairman of the county public land use advisory panel, told commissioners the changes also enhance fines and prison terms for violating laws concerning public lands, increasing them from penalties of $1,000 under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) to penalties under Title 18 of the U.S. Code, allowing for fines of up to $100,000.
"This is mind-boggling to say the least," said county commissioner and acting Chairman Mike Nannini.
The proposed BLM regulations announced in the Federal Register assert BLM law enforcement authority on lands "adjacent" to federally managed land, and seek the authority to




conduct searches and arrests without a warrant or probable cause.
A proposal for penalties against people who allow the pollution of water on public lands through the introduction of "agricultural waste" to the water, said critics, could eliminate grazing on private lands that contain streams.
"They're trying to create a police state," said Commissioner Roberta Skelton.
On Friday, Idaho's congressional delegation announced it had secured a continuation of the comment period on the proposed regulations.
Idaho's four Republican delegation -- Reps. Mike Crapo and Helen Chenowith, and Sens. Larry Craig, and Dirk Kempthorne -- asked the BLM for clarification of the proposals and for a definition of the agency's authority to enforce those regulations.
The delegation requested detailed cross-referencing, matching each section of the proposed changes with the exact statutory language the agency is citing for its authority.
The congressional officials are scheduled to meet with Walter Johnson, chief of BLM's law enforcement division, Jan. 15 to receive that information.


 
"I am particularly concerned the BLM may be seriously overstepping its authority in [water resources]," Craig said in the release. "I've made my concerns clear to them. As the BLM proceeds in its final rule making, I'll be watching how it approaches water resources very carefully."
Other concerns raised by the Idaho




representatives include language in the proposed rules regarding use of firearms on BLM lands and enforcement of laws pertaining to the use of alcohol and controlled substances, normally under the jurisdiction of the state.


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