Land for Them and No One Else
Utah State Representative Mike Noel (R-Kanab) is an outspoken critic of environmental groups that are buying up grazing allotments with the sole purpose of extinguishing the public use of federal lands. Mr. Noel takes issue with the Grand Canyon Trust's claims that retiring the grazing rights of ranchers is a win-win situation for embattled ranchers and a boon to the "fragile" landscape. Mr. Noel is a former Bureau of Land Management official who left the agency in disgust following the infamous 1996 Clinton Six million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante land grab. Noel refutes the Trust's executive director, Bill Hedden's claims that the Trust is buying grazing rights only from "willing sellers," who are facing bankruptcy and removing cattle from marginally economical land that is at risk environmentally. Not so, says Noel. The lands in question are some of the very best of the allotments and further; it is the increasingly restrictive policies of the federal agencies that are causing economic hardship among area ranchers. Mr. Noel says "food and fiber raised on public lands must be for the benefit of all Americans; not locked up for the recreational pleasure of the elite." The goal of the elitists, says Noel, is to remove the people who have settled these lands and exclude public use of the land because they covet it for their own private use.
Plan to restore West grasslands meets with resistance in Utah
New York Times
Dec. 4, 2005 12:00 AM
BOULDER, Utah - No cows remain on the federal lands set aside for grazing here above the Escalante River.
At first glance, this would seem a boon to land and cow alike. The layered rockscape just west of this small town is immense, rolling from the river toward the sky. The grass is thin and dry. The soil, the same. How fat could a cow get?
So, seven years ago an environmental group based in Arizona, the Grand Canyon Trust, began paying ranchers to give up their grazing rights when their herds, or bank accounts, had failed to thrive. By this fall, the trust had spent more than $1 million to end grazing on more than 400,000 acres.
The deals seemed to suit all concerned, until a group of local officials decided that they were bad for the local economy and a threat to the ancestral tradition of living off the land. The group set out to end this latest, uncharacteristically civil, chapter in the fraught history of cattlemen, environmentalists and dueling visions of the West's future.
Michael E. Noel, a former Bureau of Land Management employee who now is a Republican state representative from southern Utah, led the charge to roll back agreements the trust had forged. Noel said the loss of the grazing allotments would hurt ranching, which would in turn deprive the area's young people of the character-building chance to work on the land.
By retiring the lands, he said, the trust is reneging on an implicit agreement, and "if we allow that to occur, we go down the path of eliminating all grazing on public lands."
The Grand Canyon Trust's strategy had been to look amid Utah's ancient russet cathedrals for lands that needed a long rest from grazing. If the rancher with the grazing rights wanted to relinquish them to the Interior Department, the trust would pay him to do so. Bill Hedden, the executive director of the Grand Canyon Trust, said he could not understand why his efforts, involving transactions between a willing buyer and willing sellers, seemed a threat to Noel.
Hedden said he had hoped to create a situation with no losers. Ranchers could consolidate their herds in more congenial settings. Federal officials could bar grazing during a drought without bankrupting ranchers. The trust, dedicated to preserving the Colorado plateau, could show its financial supporters results.
Besides, he said, the land in question is marginal economically and at risk environmentally.
Pointing to the soil's crust, a mat splotched with bacterial growths that replenish soil nitrogen, Hedden said grazing left both grass and crust in tatters.
"We don't know how long this land takes to heal," he said.
But given the resistance of local officials, Hedden is shelving the strategies he used here. Hedden, however, remains quietly angry at the circumstances that led him to abandon his campaign to use free-market tools to curb grazing.
"We've been out there dealing with this," he said. "We solved the problems of the BLM, and we're hurting the Kane County economy by buying out guys who are going bankrupt? I don't get it."
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