Remember when a lawmaker said national forests are run by ‘chain-smoking chimps?’ The Utah Legislature passed his bill to protect local officials who cut down trees.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, speaks on March 1, 2019.

Lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to have the state cover any legal costs if counties are sued for cutting down trees on federally managed forests without authorization — as long as they do it to abate a “catastrophic public nuisance."

Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, in an earlier committee hearing likened federal control of Utah’s national forest to ”a dynamite factory run by chain-smoking chimpanzees.”

He especially pointed to the 2017 Brian Head Fire, which laid waste to Panguitch’s municipal watershed. Garfield County officials had asked the Dixie National Forest to take action to protect that watershed two years earlier, but the forest did not respond, according to County Commissioner David Tebbs.

Ivory has long alleged environmental regulations, litigation from activists and a lack of resources prevent federal land managers from adequately managing forests.

Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, complained the state will be on the hook for perhaps massive legal expenses if a local official takes such steps and then is sued.

Still, final amendments to HB99 passed on a 53-14 vote in the House, and now go to Gov. Gary Herbert for his consideration.