UT: Kane, Garfield County Commissioners Challenge BLM, Grand Canyon Trust

Garfield County News

By The Kane and Garfield County Commission
Published 02. 26. 03 at 15:17 Sierra Times

The elimination of grazing from four allotments in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) is developing into controversy pitting the Bureau of Land Management and the Grand Canyon Trust against Southern Utah ranchers and two rural Utah counties. Kane County Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw and Garfield County Commissioner Clare Ramsay are speaking out about what their counties perceive as hidden motives behind recent Bureau of Land Management decisions which they see as a move to permanently eliminate grazing on the GSENM.

Monument Manager David Hunsaker was recently quoted in the Southern Utah News as stating “At this point in time, we don’t have any changes (on grazing permits) other than those demanded by the current drought situation”. Kane County Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw believes Hunsaker’s statement is a public relations effort to mislead the public. “It is simply not true”, said Habbeshaw.

While the BLM publicly claims that these eliminations are due to drought and are not permanent, Habbeshaw claims the BLM’s position is being taken because the permanent elimination of grazing – which rancher’s believe to be the agency’s ultimate goal - is beyond agency authority.

Habbeshaw points out that the original stated purpose of the Clark Bench Allotment Environmental Assessment was to amend the monument plan to “Permanently close the allotment to grazing”. The need to eliminate grazing was to re-allocate forage to “wildlife and riparian protection” and to study “vegetation dynamics”. Kane and Garfield Counties challenged that purpose as an invalid reason to permanently eliminate livestock grazing from grazing districts established by the Taylor Grazing Act. Habbeshaw contends that the BLM then revised the flawed EA, not to resolve county concerns, but instead, to defeat the counties economic and cultural needs.

He says the monument staff revised the EAs by removing the word “permanent” and changing the need of agency action from the “proposed re-allocation” of forage for wildlife protection and vegetation study to “retire grazing” in order to “protect and enhance resource values” and to “reduce conflicts between livestock and public land users”. The EAs were approved by monument manager David Hunsaker in spite of objections from the counties and rancher’s associations.

David Wolf, Assistant Monument Manager, was recently quoted in the Garfield County News as saying 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”.

Garfield County Commissioner Clare Ramsay questions their claim of confusion since they used the process to eliminate grazing from portions of the monument in 1998 under the Clinton Administration. Ramsay believes that it was not covered by agency regulations in 1998 either. “The difference now is that these eliminations are being challenged as unlawful”, said Ramsay.

The Kane and Garfield Counties, the Utah Cattlemen’s Association and the Canyon Country Ranchers Association formally protested Hunsaker’s decision. However, last November the BLM’s Protest Coordinator Kevin Whalen denied those protests. Sally Wisely, the BLM’s Utah State Director recently issued final approval deciding to “make the Clark Bench Allotment unavailable to livestock grazing, and retire its 1,237 AUMs to meet a stated need to protect and enhance the health of upland and riparian ecosystems, and to reduce purported conflicts between livestock and public land users”.

Ramsay points out that “the EA record contains no reference to a current drought situation” and that “the final decision’s claim that the action is not permanent is contrary to documentation obtained by the counties”. In addition to the EAs’s reference to “permanently close” allotments, the counties have documents signed by Department of Interior Undersecretary P. Lynn Scarlet and Bill Hedden of the Grand Canyon Trust, who brokered these deals, stating that these grazing eliminations are “in perpetuity” and “permanent”.

Ramsay also points out that a temporary suspension of grazing use due to a “current drought situation” does not require an EA amending the monument plan, as approved by Hunsaker for purposes other than drought. In addition, the counties contend that final action on an EA would not need reconsideration in the immediate future by a more complicated Environmental Impact Statement analysis, particularly after the counties’ request for an EIS was denied as unnecessary.

Worth Brown, President of the Canyon Country Ranchers Association, states that the federal employee’s public relations spin is necessary because the monument staff’s actions to eliminate grazing are not only invalid legally and scientifically, but “their actions significantly harm local livelihoods and our rural lifestyle”. “They also take away our right of self determination as rural residents by claiming we can simply replace ranching with tourism”, Brown said. Brown believes that “public opinion would not support the true purpose of grazing elimination, thus the need for the spin”.

The real purpose of these grazing elimination actions, according to Richard Nicholas, spokesman for the Utah Cattleman’s Association, is to support Hedden’s philosophy espoused on his web site that “grazing is more harmful to southwestern habitat and native species than any other single factor”. Nicholas points out that the Trust’s web site states “we only do this where resource professionals within the agencies themselves consider grazing inappropriate”. Nicholas contends that this is decided prior to public process and without consultation with the counties or ranching associations. Nicholas says that the record indicates that the “truth of the matter is that Hunsaker and Hedden agree that livestock grazing is inappropriate along the Escalante River, on these four EA elimination allotments and on two additional allotments already “purchased” by Hedden”.

Habbeshaw agrees with this assessment noting that Interior Secretary Gale Norton wrote a letter in 2001, before required public process and without local consultation stating, “I am pleased to report that the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument office is aware of and strongly supports the Grand Canyon Trust’s proposal…” Secretary Norton concluded her letter, “…I would strongly endorse this action”.

Habbeshaw says that Hunsaker told Kane County that the grazing elimination was “top down driven” but Habbeshaw contends that Norton’s letter, along with the 1998 grazing eliminations indicates that it was actually driven by the monument staff in order to get the Bush Administration on board with the buy out scheme developed in 1998 between the monument staff and Hedden under the Clinton Administration.

Dr. Jerry L. Holechek, a range scientist cited in Hunsaker’s EAs, stated in a recent paper titled Managed Grazing Versus Grazing Exclusion Impacts on Rangeland Ecosystems: What We Have Learned, “In conclusion, there is strong scientific evidence that managed grazing plays a critical role in maintaining and improving rangelands in arid and semi-arid regions for a variety of uses and ecosystem services.”

Nicholas, suggests, “We should be pursuing scientific validity rather than eliminating livestock grazing based on Hedden’s opinion”. Kane County Commissioner Dan Hulet says the Bush Administration should have corrected this Clinton Era effort to eliminate grazing use important to rural Americans. “The Bush Administration is sending a mixed message regarding public lands management and the promises of support are not reaching the ground level where it can make a difference” said Hulet.

The counties and grazing associations are asking congress to review the agency action because of a required congressional notice when uses are eliminated from a large tract of public lands. The counties and ranchers have formed an alliance and retained legal counsel intending to challenge BLM’s actions in court. They believe that if the BLM can eliminate grazing from all allotments “purchased” by the Trust and other preservation organizations it will mean the end of public lands livestock grazing and consequently the end of the Western Livestock Industry.


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