A fine for public lands

Oh great, some people may say, just what the federal government needs — another means to extract large amounts of money from people.

In the case of a bill introduced by Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and 3rd District Rep. John Salazar, there is merit in increasing federal authority as a means to protect public lands.

The legislation would raise from $1,000 to $100,000 the amount of fines that the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior may seek when someone damages federal lands.

A fine of $100,000 is extreme and should be assessed only in extreme cases. But the current limit of $1,000 is a pittance, not adequate in many instances when people run amok on federal lands, destroy trees and other plants or damage streams and ponds.

Incidents of that sort have occurred, often with people taking vehicles where they are prohibited. Damage is also caused by people being careless with fires on public lands. Restitution may be obtained through federal court cases, but not always

The Udall-Salazar bill would allow law enforcement officials working with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or National Park Service to assess fines larger than $1,000 if they believe the damage warrants it. As with a speeding ticket, those accused of causing the damage would have the ability to challenge the assessments, and the case would be heard in federal court. For larger fines, a court hearing would be automatic.

Most use federal lands responsibly. But there are those who don’t, people who either intentionally violate rules or carelessly endanger the public lands that belong to everyone. The Udall-Salazar bill gives federal lands agencies another important tool to deter such actions and to help pay for damage when it occurs.


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