The verdict is in: Bundy-inspired bill would endanger our park rangers

Mar 24, 2016

By Center for Western Priorities

Days after Utah’s U.S. House delegation introduced a bill that would strip the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service of their law enforcement authority, reaction is pouring in from across the internet—and it’s not pretty. The consensus: the bill would put park rangers and law enforcement at risk even as they’re being threatened by anti-government extremists.

The bill, misleadingly titled the “Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act of 2016,” would provide a block grant to local and state authorities to enforce federal laws on national land that belongs to all Americans. It’s sponsored by all four House members from Utah, including Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, Mia Love, and Chris Stewart.

Bishop and Stewart’s involvement isn’t a surprise—they’ve been holding dog-and-pony meetings of their Federal Land Action Group since last year, trying to drum up support for giving away national land to states and private parties. This is, however, the first time we’ve seen Rep. Love, a first-term congresswoman from Salt Lake City, express such clear support for the land seizure agenda.

Talking Points Memo kicked off this week’s coverage with a statement from Arizona Rep. Ra√∫l Grijalva, who pointed out that the bill advances the agenda of Cliven and Ammon Bundy, the father-and-son leaders of armed standoffs with federal agents in 2014 and 2016. Both Bundys are awaiting trial; Cliven in Nevada, and Ammon in both Nevada and Oregon.

Grijalva told TPM that “Validating Cliven Bundy and his sons is not the way to improve land management and reduce conflict on U.S. public lands.”

On Wednesday, Esquire and the New York Times weighed in. First Esquire’s Charles Pierce accused Chaffetz of “trying to steal the land that belongs to you and me on behalf of seditious armed freeloaders like Cliven Bundy.” Pierce noted that BLM and Forest Service agents have been on the receiving end of threats and assaults across the West—yet Chaffetz wants to disarm the park rangers who are being threatened, rather than the criminals who threaten them.

Andrew Rosenthal, who runs the Times’ editorial page, went even further, opening his blistering attack with this:

Say what you will about Utah’s delegation to the House of Representatives, they don’t negotiate with insurrectionists, terrorists or common criminals. They waited a whole month after a group of armed fanatics seized control of federal lands in Oregon, threatening to kill federal or local law officers, before they gleefully took on the criminal gang’s demands as their own cause.

The timing of Chaffetz’s bill sends a message to the Bundy gang: We’ve got your back. It comes as the FBI is trying to arrest the 26th person charged with threatening agents and desecrating the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The Bundy Ranch Facebook page encouraged its supporters to call a so-called “Constitutional Sheriff” in Sanders County, Montana and demand he not allow federal law enforcement to take the militant into custody.

That sheriff, Tom Rummel, is featured in a DVD set from the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, one of the extremist groups the Center for Western Priorities highlighted in our report, Going to Extremes. He appears in that video along with Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory, the founder of the American Lands Council, who is now running a Koch-backed campaign to seize national lands.

This is why Chaffetz’s bill is unconscionable: It gives explicit support to militant extremists who are threatening not only our parks and wildlife refuges, but also the lives of the people who protect those forests, lakes, and mountains on behalf of all Americans. Ken Ivory and Rob Bishop’s land seizure movement is permanently entwined with extremist ideologies like county supremacy and militant groups like the III%ers; now the entire Utah delegation just made it clear which side they’re on.

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Photo: Jason Chaffetz by Don LaVange, CC-BY 2.0