Grazing on Public Lands: Here to Stay or Gone Forever? - Wildlands Project: Grand Canyon Trust Models GSENM Management After UN Treaties

Sixth In A Series, By Toni Thayer

The Santa Rita Experimental Range (SRER), located south of Tucson, Ariz., is the U.S. Forest Service’s oldest maintained research area. The site, founded in 1903, consists of 53,159 acres “for pioneer range research on the improvement and management of semiarid grasslands in the Southwest,” according to their website (

For the past one hundred years, on different plots of land, studies have been performed on grazing capacity, season of use, proper use levels, deer-livestock interactions, noxious plant control, fire effects, and other wildlife. Resource managers use the “world-class facility” with its “long-term historical and biological data bases” when designing management plans and grazing strategies for southwestern rangelands.

Al Medina, an ecologist with the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Flagstaff, Ariz., oversees the SRER. He was reluctant to recommend strategies for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) in a telephone interview on Feb. 21 due to varying factors of individual geographical regions.

However, he did have an opinion when asked if preservation, by eliminating a major use and allowing the land to lie fallow, was the best choice, “Generally, the answer is no. Plants interact with organisms and nutrient cycles. If we disrupt their current cycle, the long-term course is not known. The consequences to the soil are very important.”

Medina went on to say, “We need to learn far more about these systems. Neither putting a fence around the land to protect it, nor to overuse it, is the best way. Productivity means producing something viable from a piece of land. Nature can restore itself, but it isn’t within a reasonable time that suits human needs. It’s a process that could take 100, 200, or 500 years.”

This action of sending the land into a downward spiral of cycle disruption and rebalancing for hundreds of years seems contrary to land preservation. It is, in fact, the philosophy of the Wildlands Project, an environmental plan being implemented around the world.

In 1946, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) came up with the idea of “biosphere reserves”, land set aside for scientific study and conservation purposes with large buffer zones surrounding it.

By their design, the perfect biosphere reserve consists of: 1) an inner circle of wilderness as the core area with little to no human interaction, 2) a buffer zone, a second circle surrounding the core with limited human activities and dwellings, and 3) a transition area as the outer circle where human activities are allowed.

Dr. Reed F. Noss developed UNESCO’s concept into a working plan of biosphere reserves connected with wildlife corridors and called it the Wildlands Project. The Nature Conservancy and The National Audubon Society provided the funding for Noss’ work.

From the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro came the Global Biodiversity Assessment, an 1,100 page book that spelled out the world’s plan to save wildlife and its habitat, and Agenda 21, the world’s plan for building sustainable communities and economies. The Wildlands Project blends the two U.N. treaties, and on page 993 of the Global Biodiversity Assessment is the U.N.’s endorsement of the Wildlands Project as the example to be followed when establishing core reserve areas and connecting wildlife corridors.

Dave Foreman, former leader of the radical environmental group Earth First, is implementing the plan as Chairman of a non-profit group with the same name, the Wildlands Project, along with Noss as the group’s Chief Scientist. Their webpage ( says the group’s mission is to establish “a connected system of wildlands” to “allow the recovery of whole ecosystems and landscapes”, a process they recognize that “will take time—100 years or more in some places”.

On Mar. 18, 1999, Laurel MacLeod, the Director of Legislation and Public Policy for Concerned Women of America, testified before the U.S. House Resources Committee on the Wildlands Project with an explanation of their plan, “The Wildlands Project envisions the connection of existing (and future) biosphere reserves by corridors 50 miles wide – so that most of what we know today as the United States would be ‘returned’ to nature. ‘Green revolutionaries’ – and I use that term to distinguish them from conservation-minded environmentalists – call this ‘rewilding’. They believe rewilding is necessary because the ‘harmonious’ existence of all living creatures together is much more important than the principle of private property.”

MacLeod’s testimony clarified the process further, “UNESCO directs the international Man and Biosphere Programme (MAB) which coordinates the creation and use of biosphere reserves around the world. There are MAB projects in most U.N. member nations. In the United States, we have the U.S. Man and the Biosphere Program (USMAB), run primarily by the Department of State. USMAB nominates land (or water) sites for ‘biosphere reserve designation,’ then UNESCO makes the official ‘designation’ (approval) of the site. Incredibly, Congress plays no role in this process.”

Although the GSENM is not yet listed as a MAB or a World Protected Site by the United Nations, several universities do include it on their lists of United States’ protected areas. It does, of course, feed into the Colorado River and buffer another U.N. World Protected Site, the Grand Canyon.

In their Final Environmental Impact Statement for the GSENM’s Management Plan, BLM assumed the entire Monument would be managed as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern due to President Clinton’s mandate to protect and preserve all “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest”. The Bibliography of Sources for the GSENM’s webpage identifies five publications by Noss, including “The Wildlands Project: Land Conservation Strategy”.

The environmental group that’s scooping up the grazing permits, the Grand Canyon Trust (Trust) of Flagstaff, Ariz., has received grant funding “to partner with the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council to develop a wildlands reserve plan in the Grand Canyon Region” from the Wilburforce Foundation of Seattle, Wash.

Wilburforce, according to their yearend tax return for 2001, gave nearly $5 million to 185 grantees, including the Grand Canyon Trust, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), and The Wildlands Project. They fund many wildlands and wilderness groups throughout the U.S. as well as the proposed, ambitious Yellowstone to Yukon wildlife corridor project.

The Trust received funding from the Town Creek Foundation of Oxford, Maryland “for implementing reserve design in the greater Grand Canyon”. This group also funds other familiar environmental groups working in Utah—Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, SUWA, The Wildlands Project, Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads, The Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, and on and on.

The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust provided $100,000 to the Trust for “support for the Grand Canyon Conservation Plan, which will preserve and protect habitat and biological diversity across 10 million acres in the greater Grand Canyon area and provide land management guidance for the 14-million-acre landscape.”

And, last but certainly not least, is the Foundation for Deep Ecology out of Sausalito, Calif. One of their upcoming events should give you an idea of their inclination towards cattle grazing on public lands, “Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West.”

The Deep Ecology foundation yearend tax return for 2001 lists the same grantees above and a slew of land trusts and globalization groups. The Trust and the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council received grants under the category of “Biodiversity and Wildness”.

Another interesting grantee that received funding from the Deep Ecology folks is the Center for Biological Diversity that, you may remember from the last article of this series, provided the Trust’s research showing that “grazing is more harmful to southwestern habitat and native species than any other single factor, especially grazing in riparian areas.”

The GSENM already has the defined criteria to become a MAB, “a legally protected core relatively free from outside or human activity—in the United States, usually an already designated park, wilderness or wildlife refuge area” and “buffer zones, surrounding or contiguous to the core area, where human activity is carried out, but generally at low/rural intensity and types of activity that are compatible with conservation objectives, such as recreational activity within a park.”

MacLeod notes that within a buffer zone even private property owners are subject to land management that disallows any activities that “would in any way ‘harm’ nature” and that this would preclude individuals from “keeping livestock, growing crops, paving a road, cutting down trees, or developing their land in other ways.”

BLM and the Trust are well aware of these rewilding principles and have been applying them discreetly. It’s now time for the American public to discover these truths and to reflect upon a life in a new United States with over 50% of its landmass set aside as wilderness with no human impacts allowed.

As a young man recently quipped, “This reminds me of George Orwell’s book, 1984, where the people lived only in the cities and looked fearfully to the wild lands out beyond the city borders.”

This article ends the Grazing Series, but leads into other associated topics affecting grazing, the local economies, and Americans’ rights of choice and self-determination. Of course, we will continue to cover ongoing GSENM grazing news as it occurs.

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Toni Thayer

P O Box 131 435-826-4663

Escalante, UT 84726

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