BLM law enforcement under fire in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal law enforcement agent who oversaw the aborted roundup of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy’s rogue cattle in April is drawing complaints from sheriffs and the lieutenant governor in Utah over his management style.

Dan Love, the Bureau of Land Management’s special agent in charge in Utah and Nevada, didn’t comment for a Sunday report by the Salt Lake Tribune that included Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox saying the strained relations were reaching a breaking point.

“This is untenable,” Cox said. “There comes a time when personalities get in the way of productivity.”

BLM officials wouldn’t make Love available for an interview. Agency spokeswoman Celia Boddington told the Tribune the bureau needs to work closely with sheriffs and deputies, and the agency looks into incidents and complaints if they’re made.

“We enjoy positive and constructive relations with the majority of sheriffs,” Boddington said. “When we receive specifics regarding these allegations, we look into the incidents and take corrective action if appropriate. However, it is difficult for us to address allegations when they are either not reported to us or reported several months after the event.”

Retired BLM ranger Ed Patrovsky said the tensions date to the 1970s, when the BLM began assigning field rangers. Patrovsky used to patrol a 5,000-square-mile northwest Colorado district spanning parts of nine counties.

“The problems lie on both sides,” Patrovsky said. “Some sheriffs are territorial. They see federal officers as competitors rather than cooperators. Some of the federal officers come in with the same attitude.”

Patrovsky said events including artifact raids in Blanding, Utah, in 2009 and an armed standoff with Bundy’s supporters have brought simmering resentments to the surface.

In Blanding, rangers and FBI agents unearthed human remains discovered in the national monument in 2008, reasoning the site could be a crime scene.

The monument archaeologist objected but was excluded as the federal agents dug up the body with a TV crew filming. The remains turned out to be an American Indian who died in the 19th century.

More recently, Love led the impound operation that sought to clear out cattle BLM officials said had grazed illegally for 20 years on public land northeast of Las Vegas.

The federal agency maintains that Bundy owes more than $1 million in fees and penalties.

Federal authorities are still investigating whether crimes were committed during a tense April 12 standoff between armed Bundy supporters and armed federal agents. No shots were fired, and no injuries were reported. Some 350 of Bundy’s cows that had been corralled were released.

In Nevada, federal land accounts for 57 million acres — or about 81 percent — of the state’s total of about 70 million acres. The vast majority of that public land is managed by the BLM

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie, who dealt directly with the BLM during the Bundy roundup, declined to comment on the complaints about Love by officials in Utah.

Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee also declined comment.

Love’s critics say he has an intimidating attitude and isn’t willing to consult with counties in Utah’s remote reaches. They say federal officers refuse to help with searches and rescues and get in the way when they do.

To patrol Utah’s 23 million acres of public lands, the BLM employs 15 uniformed rangers or field officers.

Seven special agents who investigate violations of federal law related to public lands and natural resources also work for BLM, which administers about 40 percent of Utah’s land.

“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,” Garfield County Sheriff James “Danny” Perkins said during testimony before a congressional committee.

Perkins and San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge complained that rangers stop citizens without probable cause, even in areas where they have no jurisdiction, “bully” ranch hands, berate tourists for parking vehicles off dirt roads and illegally close roads.

Garfield and at least three other counties have passed resolutions declaring federal authority unwelcome, alleging that BLM law enforcement presents a threat to “health, safety and welfare.”

Review-Journal reporter Henry Brean contributed to this report.

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