May 8, 2014 / 11:12 PM / in 4 years

Federal land worker threatened in Utah as conflict simmers

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - A pair of motorists in a pick-up truck brandished a firearm and flashed a threatening sign at a federal land management agent in Utah, officials said on Thursday, about a month after a widely-publicized armed standoff with a rancher.

There was no indication that the suspects in the incident on Tuesday were connected to supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy in a dispute over $1 million in grazing fees and the larger issue of federal control over public lands.

“Threats against Bureau of Land Management employees will not be tolerated, and we are pursuing this matter with local law enforcement,” said Megan Crandall, spokeswoman for the bureau in Utah.

Crandall said a BLM employee was driving an agency vehicle on Interstate 15 near Nephi, about 90 miles south of Salt Lake City when two motorists whose faces were covered pulled alongside him and made an obscene gesture.

The suspects pulled away but returned minutes later, flashing a gun and a hand-scrawled sign that read: “You need to die,” Crandall said.

She said the incident was reported to the Utah Highway Patrol but the BLM agent could not provide investigators with a license plate number because it appeared to be covered with duct tape.

The federal government controls huge swaths of land across the western states which often prevents state and local governments from using it.

In recent years the conservative state’s rights advocates have pushed for taking back public lands. In Utah more than 60 percent of all public lands are under federal control.

“This type of intimidation is unacceptable and must be dealt with immediately. Unchecked militia groups are setting a precedent for lawlessness in the American West, and it is repugnant that this menacing behavior is spreading,” U.S. Representative Steve Horsford said in a written statement.

“No individual should fear for their life just because they showed up to work. If elected officials remain silent about this appalling behavior, they are tacitly condoning it. We need to push for this to stop before somebody gets hurt,” he said.

Frustration with the BLM has mounted across Utah. A coalition of Utah ranchers have sued the agency for failing to manage the wild horse population and one central Utah county has said it would conduct its own roundup if the BLM fails to act.

Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Grant McCool

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