Even Reid was opposed
Babbitt Backs Off on BLM Police Powers,
Portraying Opposition as 'Misinformed'

   copyright 1997, Electric Nevada

Yielding to condemnations from across the American West, the Interior Department Tuesday dropped a plan to assert new law enforcement powers on or near federally managed lands.
Secretary Bruce Babbitt said the proposal, unveiled two days after the election last November by the Bureau of Land Management, had been wracked by "confusion and misinformation" and must gain "a higher level of acceptance" before proceeding further.
In a letter to Idaho Gov. Phil Batt, Babbitt promised "no further action will be taken" on the proposal, which the BLM and Babbitt have continued to contend would only have consolidated law enforcement rules.
When Babbitt visited Idaho last month, Batt had complained about the proposed changes which Idaho's congressional delegation had begun protesting last December.
Ranchers, sportsmen and Western politicians in the West have viewed as an attempt by government to expand its police powers, although BLM spokesmen have usually insisted the agency was only seeking to "streamline" its rules, for the benefit of the public.
"This was clearly an attempt by this agency to expand its current authority," Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyoming, said Tuesday, praising Babbitt's decision. "Law enforcement activities are the responsibility of state



and local authorities."
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., another sharp critic of the proposal, said Babbitt "has done the wise thing" in withdrawing the proposal, saying it did not have the support of people that use the public lands.
Even Nevada's Sen. Harry Reid, coming to the issue finally last week in a Friday letter signed with other senators, had called on the Department of Interior to withdraw the proposed regulations.
"These proposed regulations go way too far," Reid said. "Nevadans are rightfully concerned with the BLM expanding its control over their lives."
Since the new rules were published in November, said Reid, hundreds of Nevadans had contacted his office with their concerns.
Sylvia Baca, acting BLM director, acknowledged the widespread concern among Westerners over the proposed changes and said her agency would "go back to the drawing board." The BLM, she said, would try to not only develop ways to improve the law enforcement rules but to "make them more understandable to public lands users."


 
Continuing the DOI posture of smiling while portraying western opposition as mere ignorance, Baca said, "We hear the users of the public lands and we will do all we can to help them understand the legal authority of BLM under existing statutes." (For the actual BLM proposed rules, see our
December coverage; for a legal analysis of many provisions of the BLM's now-abandoned proposal, see the official statement submitted by Eureka County, Nevada.)




This is the second time that the agency, under Babbitt's directorship of the Department of Interior, has sought "consolidation" of the law enforcement regulations in a form that triggered intense pressure from western members of Congress.


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