October 26, 2011
Montana Homeland Security Bill a Federal Land Grab in Disguise?
By Chad Love
Should the Department of Homeland Security have unfettered access to all federal lands to carry out operations, even if it means the possibility of limiting access for sportsmen? That's the question at the heart of a debate between a Montana sportsmen's group and a Montana congressman.
From this story in the Billings Gazette:
A Montana hunting-and-angling group with Democratic ties has made a large TV ad buy rapping Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg for his support of a bill that gives the U.S. Border Patrol access to all federal lands for border-security purposes. Calling the bill a “federal land grab of the highest order,” Montana Hunters and Anglers Action bought ads in the Missoula and Billings television markets that urged viewers to call Rehberg and ask him to oppose the bill
"...Rehberg, in a statement, said the bill — House Resolution 1505 —is not a “land grab,” but rather merely an attempt to allow the Border Patrol to carry out security operations on federal lands near international borders without getting involved in a “turf war”with other agencies. “This legislation is simply about making sure that the Border Patrol has the same critical access to do its important job on federal lands as it has on nonfederal lands,” he said. The bill, which passed a House committee three weeks ago and awaits floor action, says the Department of Homeland Security will have access to all federal lands within 100 miles of the border, for security purposes, and can waive numerous environmental and regulatory laws to carry out its duties.
Opponents say the bill gives too much power to Homeland Security and that it allows the agency to ignore federal land-use laws and possibly shut off public access to areas.
The bill allows the department to waive 36 other laws for security operations, which could include building roads and fences and setting up monitoring equipment, he (group president Land Tawney) said.“It gives us no assurance that there won’t be big swaths of federal land off-limits to hunters and anglers,” Tawney said. The ad shows off-road vehicle drivers, hunters and farmers with black tape over their mouths, as a voice-over says Montanans will have “no say” over land-use decisions if the bill passes.
But Rep. Rehberg claims he has amended the bill to address such concerns
"Rehberg said he amended the bill to ensure that already-approved access and uses for federal lands, such as hunting and grazing, won’t be prevented by the law.“There is nothing about this bill that creates any new authority to intrude into the lives of Americans,” he said."