Grazing on Public Lands: Here to Stay or Gone Forever? New BLM Procedures to Stop Grazing on Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument

First in A Weekly Series
By Toni Thayer
Garfield County News


Escalante, UT 84726 - On Jan. 9, 2003, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Utah State Director Sally Wisely signed three Decision Records and Findings of No Significant Impact that effectively shut down grazing on four allotments in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) which functions under BLM management. Affected were Clark Bench, Willow Gulch, Last Chance and part of Big Bowns Bench.

The Decisions state they “amend the Paria and Escalante Management Framework Plans to accept the voluntary relinquishment” of grazing permits and “to provide for cessation of grazing”. The changes to the management plans were made to protect and enhance riparian and upland ecosystems and to reduce conflicts between livestock and public land users.

Final approval had been pending Secretary of Interior Gale Norton’s acceptance or denial of the Protest filed last year by Kane and Garfield Counties, Utah Cattlemen’s Association, and Canyon Country Ranchers Association. The protesting parties had objected to new BLM procedures and processes and challenged BLM’s finding that stopping grazing would have no significant impact in the area, particularly upon local economies. They claimed the BLM’s procedures sidestepped Federal laws as mandated by Congress and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Dec. 2002, Secretary Norton denied the Protest, thus giving her stamp of approval on the BLM’s new tactics and, in effect, giving the green light to move ahead with the elimination of grazing from the allotments.

Dave Wolf, BLM’s Assistant Monument Manager for Planning and Resources, acknowledged in a telephone interview on Monday, Jan. 27, that “retirement” of a permit is a problem for them because it’s never happened in the past.

Wolf noted, “A rancher giving back his privileges? This doesn’t happen.” He went on to say, “Our grazing regulations don’t cover it, and we’ve had incomplete guidance on how to do it.”

The innovative process to remove grazing from the GSENM is called “New Environmentalism” by the Reason Public Policy Institute, a foundation that “fuses theory and practice to influence public policies”. Lynn Scarlett, the Department of Interior’s Assistant Secretary of Policy, Management, and Budget, was the Reason group’s Executive Director prior to assuming her current governmental position.

Reason’s webpage says New Environmentalism is based upon “new forms of environmental policy that emphasize decentralized decision making, flexibility, market incentives, private stewardship, and bargaining rather than rulemaking.”

The powerful environmental group, the Grand Canyon Trust, headquartered in Flagstaff, Ariz., initiated the “New Environmentalism” approach at the GSENM by securing funds from private donors to pay the buyout fee, by soliciting and arranging the sale from ranchers and negotiating the sales price and by presenting the plan to BLM.

Other news sources have reported the Trust’s financial transactions as a buyout and retirement of permits by the group, but it’s actually something much different.

It works like this: 1) The Trust gives a negotiated amount of money to the permit holder, 2) The permit holder goes to BLM and relinquishes, or gives up, his grazing rights, 3) BLM does not re-allocate the grazing use to another permittee, but places the permit into a “non-use status” for at least two years.

Richard Nicholas, Public Lands Committee Chairman for the Utah Cattlemen’s Association, says the Utah BLM scheme is a “first” in our nation and is an attempt to bypass our national laws. “Utah is the first place to eliminate grazing through this mechanism. They’re putting us on the sacrificial alter, and ranchers are the victims. This is a precedent. If it works here, they will apply it throughout the U.S. Once grazing is gone, elimination of other uses will soon follow.”

In a recent telephone interview, Bill Hedden, the Utah Conservation Director for the Grand Canyon Trust, said his group doesn’t approach the ranchers, but rather, it’s the other way around, “The ranchers come to us. Many are tired of working with BLM and just want out. Some need the money for other things, like a bone marrow transplant.”

However, a copy of a letter to grazing permittee Mary Bulloch of Kanab and signed by Hedden on May 25, 2000, contradicts his more recent statement above. “One project we have done a lot of work on is buying the grazing permits of ranchers who want to rearrange their operations or quit the business. . . . I am writing to learn whether you might be interested in selling your permit on the Rock Creek-Mudholes allotment. Basically, the Grand Canyon Trust would pay you to relinquish your permit to BLM and BLM would retire grazing on the allotment.”

According to Wisely’s Decisions, it’s not a totally done deal. The Decision documents say they “will be reviewed, and may be revised,” during the BLM’s upcoming Environmental Impact Statement, a study that will require “at least two years” to complete.

The ranchers don’t hold much faith in the return of grazing to the allotments even after a formal review. Reality for them, they say, has been broken promises, empty words, and a government that intimidates and hides in the cracks of laws.

Nicholas ended by stating, “Ranchers are good people, and we’re tired of being demonized. We love the land. We’re on it every day of our lives. It’s part of our life. This is not about the environment. It’s a cultural war to lock it up. It’s about Americans’ rights and self-determination to plan and control our future.”

Our coverage continues next week as we look deeper into the varying factors of this grazing permit process.


Copyright 2003 Toni Thayer, permission to reprint upon request.

Published January 30, 2003 by:


The Hometown News of Bryce Canyon Country



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