With hundreds of millions of acres of federal land sprawled across a sparsely populated West, Bureau of Land Management rangers often legally fill in for state and county law officers. But last fall, when the BLM published "plain English" regulations that detailed the agency's existing authority over gun use, drunken driving and other matters, some Westerners got nervous.
"I am extremely concerned about the separation of powers between the state and federal government," said Nevada Sen. Harry Reid. "These rules cross that line."
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt got the message: In early March he withdrew the regulations.
BLM officials insist the revised rules only restated authority the agency already has. "Our intentions were good," asserts JoLynn Worley, public affairs officer for the Nevada BLM. "In this whole state there's about 20 law enforcement rangers. This is not a grab for power here."
Worley said people with "a general distrust of government" simply misinterpreted many of the regulations. A prohibition against shooting a firearm across a body of water adjacent to a public road, for example, was mistakenly thought to ban duck hunting, she says.
"People still can take guns out to public lands," Worley says. The BLM just wanted something on the books so that "if someone is being dumb with a gun, we can ask that person to stop."
* Danielle Desruisseaux