Local Reaction To Possible Forest Road Closures

By: GPK Media

Sierra County Sheriff Joe Baca said this week that he reiterates his pledge to not only not enforce potential road closures on the Gila National Forest, but will arrest any federal agent for trying to do so in Sierra County, should the U.S. Forest Service (FS) close the approximately 1,200 miles of roads in the Gila’s Travel Management Preferred Alternative Plan. Baca told the Sentinel in 2011, shortly after public hearings were held to provide input to forest managers, that he would not renew a $15,000 contract for his department to provide law enforcement inside the Gila boundaries and on roads within the county. “We (sheriffs) have jurisdiction in the forest anyway if the land is within our county, and I won’t take money for doing what I already get paid to do by the residents of Sierra County,” said Baca. The FS manages approximately 378,700 acres (a portion of the more than 3-million acre Gila National Forest) in Sierra County. Last February the FS’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) supported Preferred Alternative G, which would lead to closure of the more than a thousand miles of roads. A final ruling on the proposed changes is expected to be released to the public in “late fall 2013,” with implementation to begin in “early 2014,” according to FS officials. Baca has joined a growing number of elected sheriffs from across the West protesting what they contend is federal officials undermining state and local rights regarding law enforcement. He and other sheriffs in western states have said the state and U.S. Constitutions give the elected sheriffs sovereignty over federal officials in the counties they represent. A Captain in the New Mexico Army National Guard and Afghanistan War veteran, Baca said he is opposed to the agency’s proposed rules that the western sheriffs interpret as giving FS law enforcement…….