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Utah to feds: Stop enforcing our laws

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Tourists ride on top of one of the many Red Canyon vistas Tuesday, June 2, 2009, in Dixie National Forest, Utah.

Tourists ride on top of one of the many Red Canyon vistas Tuesday, June 2, 2009, in Dixie National Forest, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Federal officers and rangers have no right to enforce driving and other common laws on national forest, federal range lands and national parks, the Utah Attorney General's Office asserts.

The state is defending an effort to limit the police powers of federal officers in the latest flashpoint between Utah and U.S. government officials. The debate has often centered on control or development of federal lands, but it is now extending to police activities by federal officers.

The Utah Legislature approved a law earlier this year that prohibits federal officers — at risk of arrest and prosecution — from trying to enforce state or local laws anywhere in Utah. Gov. Gary Herbert signed the law.

The federal government sued, however, and a judge slapped an injunction on the law the day it was to take effect, May 13.

State lawyers filed papers June 4 to defend the new law and ask the judge to lift the injunction.

The U.S. departments of agriculture and interior "cannot grant to themselves state law enforcement authority," state lawyers said in a 100-page memo.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Salt Lake City has until June 14 to respond with a memo of its own.

At first, it wasn't clear what federal officers were enforcing in Utah. The U.S. Department of Justice later clarified that federal officers can issue speeding tickets and enforce Utah gun laws and hunting and fishing regulations on federal lands.

Federal officers enforcing state or local laws are acting under federal authority and have the right to do so, and they can pursue a suspect onto state, local or private lands, Justice Department officials told The Associated Press.

The federal lawsuit says Utah has no right to arrest or prosecute Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management rangers for bringing law and order to national forests and other federal lands.

In response, Utah lawyers cited the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916. They said the federal law encourages the Park Service to cooperate with state and local officials on enforcement of state laws or local ordinances.

The Park Service act "recognizes the primacy of a state's authority to enforce its own laws," the Utah Attorney General's Office said Tuesday. "Thus, the National Park Organic Act of 1916 provides no authority for NPS to incorporate and enforce state law via regulation without a state's consent."