Utah's four House Republicans introduced a bill Wednesday that would strip the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service of their power to police federal lands, and give that power over to local cops.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz and his three GOP colleagues from Utah introduced the Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act.
The lawmakers say the growth of police authorities in both agencies has distracted them from their main mission of managing federal land, and has created conflicts with local authorities. They also say federal agents are not as trusted as local police, and should be removed.
"Federal agencies do not enjoy the same level of trust and respect as local law enforcement that are deeply rooted in local communities," Chaffetz and other lawmakers said. "This legislation will help de-escalate conflicts between law enforcement and local residents while improving transparency and accountability."
"The BLM and U.S. Forest Service will be able to focus on their core missions without the distraction of police functions. This is a win all around," they added.
A letter the Utah Sheriffs' Association sent to Chaffetz shows that federal police agents and their local counterparts are butting heads, and that local police believe the feds are intruding on local authority.
"The Utah Sheriffs' Association has seen federal officials try and usurp this authority by enacting laws and regulations that mirror state law," wrote Sheriff Robert Dekker, president of the group. "They have dealt with aggressive and over reactive federal land agents and have joined with other Western states sheriffs in the same issues."
Dekker said his group "support this bill 100 percent."
Under the bill, BLM and Forest Service police authorities would expire at the end of fiscal year 2017. BLM is an agency in the Department of the Interior, and the Forest Service is housed under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Money spent by the two agencies on policing would be sent back to states as a block grant, and could be used to build up local police to enforce laws on federal land. States with more land owned by the federal government would get more of the money.