Sheriff looks to increase patrols on BLM lands

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Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead and the rest of the Western States Sheriff Association want the federal government to pay their bills.

Grinstead is part of an effort to have local sheriff departments reimbursed for the patrols and other duties law enforcement agencies perform on federal lands. Grinstead wants the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to enter into a contract with the Moffat County Sheriff's Department concerning patrols of BLM land in the county.

"We're out there providing services to the federal government and I think they should pay their fair share," Grinstead said. "I'm not saying the Bureau of Land Management agent has no authority, I want to make that clear, but for local issues, we should be covering."

In the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976, there is a provision that states the Secretary of the Interior "shall" offer contracts to local law enforcement agencies with appropriate jurisdiction. Grinstead, and other members of the sheriff's association, want the BLM to live up to its responsibility as outlined in FLPMA.

"This federal funding would pay for the services we provide, and depending on the contract, could pay for expanded patrols or hiring a deputy in the patrol division to cover the BLM patrols," Grinstead said. "Under this contract, the Sheriff's Department would enforce local laws and enforce federal laws in conjunction with BLM officers."

The final version of the BLM's National Management Strategy on Motorized Off-Road Highway Vehicle Use, published in January, states the government "may" offer a contract to local departments, a change from the "shall" in the original language. The sheriff's association sees this as an attempt by the BLM to make it so the government doesn't have to offer these contracts.

BLM officials contend law enforcement officers must have training to enforce federal laws.

"We already have a contract with the Forest Service, and we provide services without having to attend a federal training program," Grinstead said. "The claim by the BLM that the Sheriff's Department would need to attend a 16-week federal training course to be able to provide services just isn't accurate. We have a good relationship with the BLM, and I want that to continue, but the county needs to be reimbursed. We are now patrolling the BLM lands free of charge."

The BLM and Moffat County Sheriff's Department operate under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for patrol services. BLM Ranger Brad Merrill acknowledges there are provisions in FLPMA that concern these departments.

"Basically, the BLM and the Sheriff's department have a MOU to provide law enforcement in the county, and now we're making sure the MOU is up to date," Merrill said. "The exact form the agreement will take and what it will cover will be hashed out as we update the MOU."

There are meetings scheduled that will begin shortly, Merrill said.

"I don't know what the outcome could be, or when the finalization will happen," Merrill said.

Grinstead did not know when an agreement would be put into place.

"Unfortunately, the government doesn't work at a high speed. It'll probably be resolved by next year," Grinstead said. "But rest assured, not only myself, but other western state sheriffs will continue to push this issue."

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