Some National Park Service employees could find themselves sitting in the Moffat County Jail if there isn't a change in the U.S. Department of Interior policy.
Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead said a recent correspondence between Dinosaur National Monument Superintendent Dennis Ditmanson and Dinosaur Monument private land inholder Tim Mantle was brought to his attention and immediately concerned him.
Mantle had requested information from Ditmanson regarding hunting and the discharging of firearms on his private land, which lies within the boarders of the monument.
Ditmanson told Mantle the rules enforced on monument property carry over to any private land inholding within the monument.
"The prohibition on hunting within the Monument is extended to private inholdings based on the demonstrated threat of risk or harm to the Federal lands or resources, i.e., the wildlife, as well as to visitors and staff caused by the discharge of firearms," Ditmanson stated in the letter.
Grinstead believes the National Park Service staff prohibiting Mantle from hunting or discharging a firearm on his private property is a direct infringement on his constitutional and private property rights. Rights that Grinstead took an oath to uphold.
"They are infringing upon the constitutional rights and private property rights of the citizens of Moffat County," Grinstead said. "We (the Moffat County Sheriff's Department) are responsible to protect the private land rights of Moffat County residents, and if someone trespasses or commits a criminal act we will respond appropriately."
According to Grinstead, this means that if the National Park Service were to enter the Mantle ranch without Mantle's permission to try to enforce the prohibition of hunting on his private land, their actions could result in charges or citations from the Moffat County Sheriff's Department.
In his letter, Ditmanson cites Part 36 of the code of Federal Regulations paragraph 2.2 (36CFR2.2). Grinstead views the regulation as unconstitutional and is in the process of drafting a letter to Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and Ditmanson. Grinstead also believes the Federal Regulation infringes on second-amendment rights because the case deals with discharging a firearm on private property.
Ditmanson's letter also claims the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) supports the private land prohibition.
"The Colorado Division of Wildlife cooperates with the United States in this prohibition. See the closures and land use restrictions published in the annual hunting proclamation."
Grinstead claims the DOW regulations do not say anything about private property within a monument.
"National parks and national monuments are closed to hunting," DOW regulations state.
Grinstead is in the process of following up with DOW Director Russell George to clarify if the DOW does support the prohibition on Mantle's land. As far as Grinstead is concerned, he doesn't believe that the DOW would have any reason to keep Mantle from hunting on his private property.
"As long as he has all of the necessary tags and licenses, I don't see why the Division would have a problem with him hunting on his land," Grinstead said.
Mantle doesn't blame Ditmanson for the regulation, in fact he applauds Ditmanson for looking up the regulations and sending them to him.
"The monument people have been telling us for years that we cannot hunt or use firearms on the property," Mantle said. "I understand that comes from the top down. He (Ditmanson) had the courage and compassion to look up the regulations and send them to us and I appreciate that."
Mantle thinks the prohibition of firearms is a violation of his rights. He said that he has brought it up to the state and national congressional representatives, but Grinstead was the only official who would listen.
"Buddy was the only one that cared," Mantle said.
As a cattle rancher, being able to discharge a firearm is a right that his livelihood depends on, Mantle said. Whether it is the need to defend his livestock from predators or the extra income Mantle could make from allowing hunters on his property, the firearm prohibition is hurting Mantle financially.
"You can have a gun; you just can't have any bullets," Mantle said. "It's gun control. It's wrong that a private-property owner cannot produce what income is available to him on private property or be able to protect that property. This is damn sure a taking, and it is a pretty high-dollar taking."
Mantle said that, to the best of his knowledge, the monument staff usually doesn't come onto his land, but he said his ranch is constantly under surveillance.
Mantle plans to fight the regulation, but doesn't want to challenge it by purposely breaking it. He wants to battle by-the-book and fight the battle on the legislative front.
"Now it's up to our political people to reinstate our private property rights," Mantle said.
Grinstead also plans to pursue a legislative remedy. He has contacted Congressman Scott McInnis R-Colo., to gain his help in the situation.
"I think it's a dramatic overreaching by the National Park Service," McInnis said. "They have had their eye on the Mantle Ranch for a long time. There's no better way to get their hands on the property than by cutting off their income. I think your sheriff is absolutely correct on this one."
Grinstead vows to uphold Mantle's personal property rights until he is told otherwise.
"Let the park service manage federal land, and the sheriff be responsible for private land," Grinstead said.
Ditmanson was unavailable for comment.