CANYON CITY – Sheriff Glenn Palmer’s challenge of the Forest Service’s authority in Grant County dates back at least six months, according to correspondence released last week.

Letters show Palmer began questioning the agency over law enforcement activities which he felt went beyond the federal agency’s jurisdictions.

Other officials said the trigger for the conflict came when a USFS Law Enforcement officer new to the area issued citations carrying stiff fines to several residents for activities on the Malheur National Forest.

“Over the past couple of months I have received several complaints from citizens of this county who have asked me specific questions regarding law enforcement activities on the Malheur National Forest,” Palmer wrote in a Nov. 16 letter to Doug Gochnour, then supervisor of the MNF.

The fray apparently contributed to Palmer’s stand in March, when he declined to sign a cooperative agreement with the agency. Under past annual agreements, the Forest Service has paid $11,000 to $13,000 for deputies to patrol forest campgrounds during the recreation season.

Palmer, in his letter refusing the contract, said that he had sent at least two requests to the Forest Service, asking them to explain their Constitutional authority to have law enforcement officers in the county. In the letter and then on a conservative radio show, he charged that the agency’s responses to his requests were inadequate.

“One response I have received in writing is that their authority is given through the Cooperative Policing Agreement that this agency has signed in the past. Upon asking for clarification and a second request, the response was that I needed to check with my District Attorney,” he wrote. “Neither response in my opinion is adequate.”

The responses he alluded to came in letters from Barb Severson, special agent in charge of Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations in Vancouver, Wash.

In a three-page Dec. 20 letter, Severson mentioned the cooperative agreements in describing authorities allowed by the Forest Service Manual. She went on to cite 11 federal laws – the earliest dating back to 1897 – dealing with regulation and enforcement of laws on national forest lands. She also cited portions of the U.S. Code that establish offenses and penalties and authorize employees designated by the Secretary of Agriculture to act in investigations.

Palmer subsequently sent a letter on Dec. 30, reiterating his request for information about the agency’s authority and asking how the Forest Service can ignore or override the Oregon Constitution and the rights of citizens in Grant County. 

“Again, I am looking for specific Constitutional authority …” he said, underscoring the last three words.

Severson’s response, dated Jan. 31, said she had already responded to his question of authority in her Dec. 20 letter. 

As for the second question, she said “in general,, citizens who commit Federal offenses should expect to resolve their case through the Federal process. I recommend you discuss the question with your District Attorney.”

The Eagle, which obtained copies of the Forest Service correspondence through the Freedom of Information Act, has posted the full letters online at its website www.MyEagleNews.com.

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