A county sheriff in Northern California has stripped the U.S. Forest Service of some of its law enforcement authority in his jurisdiction. Specifically, El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini sent the Forest Service a letter stating that its agents would not be able to enforce state laws in his county.
D’Agostini has not barred the Forest Service from his county nor has he stopped the agency’s officers from enforcing federal law in his county. Internet accounts that claim he has are wrong. Instead, he has merely cancelled an agreement between his agency and the Forest Service. The agreement gave Forest Service police the authority to enforce state law and county ordinances in Eldorado County.
“I take the service that we provide to the citizens of El Dorado County and the visitors to El Dorado County very seriously, and the style and manner of service we provide,” D’Agostini said. “The U.S. Forest Service, after many attempts and given many opportunities, has failed to meet that standard.”
It all means that Forest Service agents could still arrest individuals for violations of federal law in the county and still investigate reported violations of federal law. The agents also could still patrol the National Forest and arrest persons there.
Sheriff D’Agostini does have not have the power to bar federal officials from his county nor does he have the authority to stop them from enforcing federal laws. Yet he is under no obligation to work with the federal officers, either.
In many parts of the country, particularly the West, local authorities, usually county sheriffs, work closely with the Forest Service. Sheriff’s deputies patrol the National Forest and enforce some federal laws. They work closely with the Forest Service’s own law enforcement division and a similar organization run by the Bureau of Land Management.
Contrary to popular belief, the Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations division is not rangers. Instead, the organization is a federal police force that patrols many rural areas of the United States.
John Myers, law professor at the University of the Pacific, said D’Agostini is within his rights.
“Looks to me as though the sheriff can do this,” he said. “They don’t have state powers in the first place, but essentially the sheriff can deputize individuals to have authority in his or her jurisdiction.”
The Sheriff’s move apparently was motivated by what he sees as harassment of local citizens by Forest Service officers. D’Agostini told a Sacramento TV station that the Forest Service was limiting county residents’ ability to carry and use guns in the national forest.
D’Agostini claims to have received more that 50 complaints from citizens who were stopped by aggressive Forest Service law enforcement officers. He stated that some of the citizens were asked whether they were carrying firearms.
A man named Cory Ward said he was stopped by federal officers who asked if he had a gun in the El Dorado National Forest, according to the Sacramento CBS affiliate. Ward said he felt intimated by the officers. The station said people were “just out enjoying the woods when they were stopped by an overly aggressive forest service officer.”
“I have felt intimidated,” Ward said. “They want to know what you’re doing here, where you’re going, do you have any firearms on board. … This is your land, this is my land, this is everybody’s land. And we don’t want to come here anymore.”
According to the National Forest’s website, the “primary laws” governing possession of firearms and other weapons in National Forests are state laws.