Grazing on Public Lands: Here to Stay or Gone Forever? Out Front and Behind the Scenes

Third In A Series, By Toni Thayer


The United States’ democratic process revolves around private citizens electing representatives to pass Federal laws for the benefit of the nation and its citizens. This legislative activity was designed by the Founding Fathers of the U.S. Constitution to operate out front and in the public eye.

The Federalist Papers, essays written by several Founding Fathers, contain a vision of checks and balances to apply to a potentially overly powerful Federal government by allowing public input, concerns and comments. In this way, the public could shape and mold national laws prior to their passage and implementation.

On the other hand, covert, as defined by Webster’s II Dictionary, means covered, covered over, secret, or clandestine.

The newly implemented process by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to stop grazing on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) has been devised and agreed upon covertly, behind closed doors.

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, in Public Land’s Council v. Babbitt, the Secretary of the Interior is the “landlord of the public range” and has broad discretionary powers to cancel, modify, or suspend permits and increase or decrease rangeland acreage “in accordance with land use plans”. In other words, the buck stops here.

To change land use plans, Federal managers must follow procedures as outlined in U.S. laws, the Code of Federal Regulations (CFRs). These laws direct the managers to prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA) to analyze all factors, effects and impacts from the proposed changes.

The CFRs state that the public must be given early notice of the changes with publication required in the Federal Register, a listing of Federal actions available for public comment, as well as in an “appropriate media, including newspapers of general circulation in the State.” The managers must also provide meaningful opportunities for public participation in, and comments on, the land use changes.

In the recent actions to stop grazing on the GSENM, the BLM’s first public notice was given on Nov. 30, 2001 when the agency listed the Clark Bench and Willow Gulch allotments on the Federal Register. This action began the 30-day public comment period. It should be noted that the EA erroneously shows Nov. 20, 2001, as the listing date on the Federal Register.

The EA supporting the elimination of grazing on the Clark Bench allotment says that public notification was also posted on the electronic notification bulletin board on Dec. 3, 2001 and on the “Monument Internet Homepage” on Dec. 4, 2001. However, these notices were unavailable to the public due to internet problems beginning the very next day, Dec. 5.

The EA did not list any public notices published in other media sources or newspapers, nor did it define any attempts to offer other “meaningful opportunities” for public participation as required by the CFRs.

Kane and Garfield Counties, Utah Cattlemen’s Association and Canyon Country Ranchers Association protested this public participation requirement with concerns over inadequate procedures and planning. The BLM Washington, D.C. office denied their protest and determined that procedures had been followed and that “opportunities for public participation, were sufficient”.

However, copies of letters obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, indicate that the Department of Interior actually made the decision to stop grazing on the four GSENM allotments before the public comment period began on Nov. 30, 2001.

In an Aug. 3, 2001 letter to U.S. Congressman Chris Cannon of Utah, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton affirms that the GSENM “office is aware of and strongly supports the Grand Canyon Trust’s proposal” of a “market-based transfer of grazing permits”.

Secretary Norton goes on to say that in the event of an agreement between the ranchers and the Grand Canyon Trust “the BLM will work quickly” to determine if the grazing rights should be removed or reallocated to other uses. She notes, “In addition, the BLM will amend its land use plan for the area, as appropriate.”

The final paragraph of Secretary Norton’s letter says, “Voluntary relinquishments of grazing permits can provide a marketplace-oriented resolution for public land conflicts. These arrangements are generally ‘win-win’ situations” by stabilizing the ranchers and by avoiding “involuntary retirement of permits when polarized resource conflicts are occurring”.

The Department of Interior’s Assistant Secretary of Policy, Management and Budget, Lynn Scarlett, commits to this “win-win situation” with the Grand Canyon Trust in her letter of Nov. 5, 2001 to them, “we remain committed to support your efforts to work with the ranchers within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to voluntarily retire their grazing permits.”

In this letter, Scarlett says it is a done deal, “Because this initiative would be done in perpetuity, it is paramount that all affected parties reach a favorable solution.” She spells out the criteria as “a willing seller/willing buyer agreement before any grazing permits are relinquished”.

The pre-determined outcome of the Grand Canyon Trust’s proposal by both Secretary Norton and Assistant Secretary Scarlett occurred at least 25 days before the public was invited to participate. Scarlett’s defined criteria goes directly against the CFRs that state permitted livestock grazing “shall be based upon the amount of forage available for livestock grazing as established in the land use plan”.

The EA for the Clark Bench allotment does not reflect a rangeland in crisis, requiring the need to stop grazing. The average rating of the vegetative analysis was the second highest available for all categories reviewed. In numerous instances, the EA determines that a possible or “potential” use could exist for threatened and endangered species.

Another issue addressed in the EA was conflicts between livestock grazers and other public land users. The recreation analysis in the Clark Bench EA lists 9,630 visitors in the year 2001 and only eight visitor complaints for the two-year period 2000 and 2001. This equates to less than 1/10 of a percent of visitors who have complained about an outdoor experience shared with cows on the GSENM.

According to Dave Hunsaker, Monument Manger of the GSENM, in a telephone interview on Feb. 11, 2003, “Secretary Norton has not approved anything related to the relinquishment of grazing permits.”

He went on to say that the “ranchers still have the permits” in their names. It would seem, then, that there wasn’t a need to perform the EAs. When queried about this, Hunsaker clarified the history of the proposals.

His account is as follows: Each individual rancher approached BLM with separate proposals to give up their grazing rights. To analyze the proposals, BLM began the EA processes. Then the ranchers returned to BLM, withdrawing their relinquishment of rights. However, BLM continued with the EAs so that if the proposals to give up grazing rights surfaced again, the process would already be completed.

Mark Habbeshaw, Kane County Commissioner, said in a telephone interview on Feb. 11, 2001, “The bottom line of these EA actions is that the Monument staff and Bill Hedden of the Grand Canyon Trust developed a scheme to eliminate grazing from the four allotments. The purpose of all subsequent actions has been to facilitate elimination of grazing. It was not an objective analysis by Federal laws.”

Our coverage continues next week as we look deeper

into the varying factors of this grazing permit process.

Articles in This Series Online at:

#1 New BLM Procedures To Stop Grazing On GSENM, 1/30/03

#2 Broken Promises, Empty Words, Hiding in the Cracks of Laws, 2/6/03

#3 Out Front and Behind the Scenes, 2/13/03

Counties Respond: Kane, Garfield County Commissioners Challenge BLM, The Trust, 2/13/03



Toni Thayer

P O Box 131 435-826-4663

Escalante, UT 84726

Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to:

Toni Thayer: or email

Garfield County News: 435-679-8730 or email


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site