McInnis introduces land-abuse bill |

McInnis introduces land-abuse bill

U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, has introduced legislation that he said is aimed at deterring unlawful abuse of federal lands.If enacted, H.R. 3803 would provide consistent enforcement authority to federal land managers and increase penalties for persons who “knowingly and willfully” cause damage to lands that fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service, according to McInnis’ office.Current laws often treat the same offense differently depending on which of the three federal lands the offense occurred on.”This puts everyone under one umbrella,” McInnis spokesperson Blaine Rethmeier said of the bill.The McInnis legislation would create two general classes of fines and penalties for those who are found guilty of unlawful abuse, such as illegally cutting down trees or building roads, on federal lands. The two classes are as follows:-Class B misdemeanor – Any individual found guilty of violating regulations governing the use of public lands would be subject to a fine not to exceed $5,000 and/or imprisonment of up to six months. Any group found guilty of violating regulations would be subject to a fine not to exceed $10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to six months.-Class A misdemeanor – Any individual found guilty of willfully or knowingly violating regulations governing the use of public lands would be subject to a fine not to exceed $100,000 and/or imprisonment of up to one year. Any group found guilty of willfully and knowingly violating regulations would be subject to a fine not to exceed $200,000 and/or imprisonment of up to one year.Under the bill, a defendant charged with a Class A misdemeanor would have to receive a jury trial.Under current laws, according to McInnis, a Class B misdemeanor on Forest Service land carries a maximum penalty of $5,000 and/or six months in prison. McInnis, who is chairman of the Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, said the Forest Service does not differentiate between those who intentionally and knowingly cause damage to natural resources, and those who accidentally cause damage.On BLM land, offenses currently are classified as Class A misdemeanors that carry a maximum penalty of $100,000 and/or one year in prison. Those offenses must be knowing and willful. “That means there is no mechanism to punish individuals who, while reckless, didn’t intend to engage in given behavior that causes resource damage,” McInnis said.On National Park Service land, offenses currently are Class B misdemeanors carrying a maximum penalty of $5,000 and/or up to six months in prison.”This legislation creates much-needed uniformity in federal law, and sends a tough but fair message to anyone engaging in illegal activities that harm our federal lands,” McInnis said. “This underscores my deeply held belief that individuals and groups have the right to use but not abuse our public lands and natural treasures.”Ann Huebner, field manager at the BLM office in Glenwood Springs, said she hasn’t reviewed the bill in its entirety, “But I appreciate his (McInnis’) concern. We have some incredible damage that’s done to BLM land. It’s a small percentage of the people (at fault), but it’s costly to rehabilitate.”Under the McInnis bill, fines resulting from offenses would cover the cost of any improvement, protection or rehabilitation, or be used to increase public awareness concerning the use of public lands.McInnis said his bill is endorsed by several outdoor recreation organizations, including Americans for Responsible Recreation Access, the American Council of Snowmobile Associations, the American Motorcyclist Association and the National Marine Manufacturers Association.Rethmeier said he doesn’t expect the bill to be controversial.

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