WASHINGTON, D.C., July 24, 2014 – Today, the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulations held an oversight hearing on “Threats, Intimidation and Bullying by Federal Land Managing Agencies.” This hearing continued Committee oversight into bullying by federal land management agencies and federal law enforcement agencies on private, state, and federal lands.
State and local governments, ranchers, business owners, and private citizens have been subject to threats, lack of cooperation, and numerous unfair or heavy-handed tactics which threaten public safety, the environment, endangered species, and the livelihoods of communities. Congressional oversight is necessary to provide an effective check on federal officials who abuse their regulatory powers.
“Today we took a second look at threats, intimidation and bullying by Federal Land Managing Agencies. During a hearing the Committee held last year and again today, we heard first-hand accounts of mistreatment at the hands of federal officials seeking to extort the witnesses into relinquishing their property rights,” said Representative Doug LaMalfa (CA-01). “These firsthand accounts give the victims of abusive conduct by a federal land managing official a chance to tell their story to Congress. Status quo agency oversight, policies and procedures are inadequate for addressing or deterring employee abuses and may instead embolden overreaching or malicious employee behavior with little risk of retribution for their actions.”
Witnesses highlighted examples of flagrant intimidation met by citizens who refuse to surrender their constitutional rights, land and water rights, grazing permits and other multiple-use benefits.
Sheriff James Perkins, Garfield County, UT, highlighted his perspective from 27 years of law enforcement and experience working with various federal law enforcement agencies.
“BLM’s attitude towards coordinating with local law enforcement is summed up best by a conversation I had with a BLM law enforcement officer while we were attending a drug task force meeting in Cedar City, Utah. He told me point blank that he didn’t care about any authority that I thought I had as the Garfield County Sheriff, and that he did not feel like he had to coordinate anything through my office… This refusal to coordinate, coupled with a lack of any meaningful oversight, has created a perfect environment where the abuse of federal law enforcement powers can occur.”
Leland Pollock, Garfield County Commissioner, Garfield County Utah, testified on how BLM law enforcement has moved away from a public service philosophy due to polarization of personnel and bullying and cancellation of cooperative agreements.
“Our concerns/ complaints are not just a matter of hurt feelings, bullying, intimidation, lack of integrity, and a host of social issues. BLM’s Chief of Law Enforcement has cost Garfield County real dollars… We are befuddled how one individual can override a State Director and negatively impact an entire county with impunity.”
A. Grant Gerber, Elko County Commissioner, Elko Nevada, discussed specific examples of wrongdoings, threats, intimidation, and bullying by both BLM law enforcement and a district manager.
“When I was a boy and as I grew up the few Federal Agents were mainly local or from rural areas and fit in well with the local area. They knew the people and worked cooperatively. Now the Federal agents are predominantly from outside the area and do not develop connections with the locals as was done previously. Many start off with a belligerent attitude, even a commanding presence. They are especially offended if anyone opposes any Federal Government actions. The worst are the Federal Law Enforcement Agents that arrogantly announce that they are not governed by Nevada law, but can enforce it if they choose. Now we have been informed, that without notice of hearings, the BLM has determined that two more BLM Law Enforcement Agents are necessary to control the people in the Elko area. All of this is resulting in less use of Federal Lands by citizens as the citizens become afraid of being accosted and berated.”
Jose Valera Lopez, President of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, Rancher, Santa Fe New Mexico, testified on current justifications Federal Land Managers use to intimidate and bully including Endangered Species protection and resource protection.
“Endangered species ‘protection’ is the biggest culprit. At the moment the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering critical habitat for the lesser prairie chicken, the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, and two varieties of garter snakes. Expansion of the Mexican wolf habitat is expected as early as tomorrow. We have had 764,000 acres in New Mexico and Arizona recently designated critical habitat for the jaguar although only a few male jaguar have been sighted in the U.S. over the last 60 years… In my own case, the BLM has been buying up private lands near my family ranch within the boundaries of an Area of Critical Environmental Concern that they designated part of their Resource Management Plan. They not refer to our ranch as an in-holding. What this designation has done is de-valued our land and effectively prohibits any type of future development on the ranch.”