Utah grazing review is trouble for ranchers

Dec 6, 2013

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument encompasses 1.9 million acres in southern Utah, making it the largest land area of all U.S. national monuments. It has been controversial since its inception in September, 1996, when President Bill Clinton used his authority under the Antiquities Act to create it while campaigning for a second term.

Clinton’s declaration ceremony was held at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, not Utah, whose congressional delegation and governor were given only 24 hours’ notice. Clinton took Arizona by a 2.2 percent margin but lost Utah by 21.1 percent to Republican Robert Dole that November’s presidential election.

Federal courts dismissed several lawsuits to overturn Clinton’s designation, which also shut down the Andalex Coal Mine in a remote region of the Kaiparowits Plateau, but controversy continues today, pitting environmentalists against ranchers who graze cattle on numerous allotments. The monument straddles Utah’s Garfield and Kane counties.

“Clinton tied up the largest coal reserve on the North American continent with the stroke of a pen. That’s one reason the boundaries are so vast. It tied up coal. The circumference of that monument basically takes out the coal. This does not bode well for the ranching industry or multiple use,” Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock told the Western Livestock Journal.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is the first national monument managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), rather than the National Park Service. It is bound by Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the east and south.

The BLM is initiating an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as a first step toward managing grazing on the Grand Staircase, Kaiparowits Plateau and Escalante canyons. Clinton’s proclamation recognized livestock as “grandfathered,” but it also ensured grazing would be subject to applicable laws and regulations. A 1999 BLM management plan does not address grazing.

Pollock, a Garfield County commissioner for three years who has lived his entire life in southern Utah, said the BLM’s plan to amend that management plan means trouble for grazing supporters. He said the BLM plans to determine the environmental impact of cattle on each allotment and intends to make changes through the EIS process.

“I’m very passionate about our land in Garfield County,” Pollock said, noting 13 allotments are at risk on the monument.

According to the BLM, the Escalante monument has 82 grazing allotments supported by 102 permit holders who used 11,000 animal unit months (AUMs) in 2012. AUMs measure the number of mother cows and calves grazing an allotment for one month.

“The EIS grazing plan amendment is very, very worrisome for us trying to defend the right to graze on public land,” Pollock said.

The Western Watersheds Project filed a lawsuit at least two years ago, accusing the BLM of neglecting the environmental impact of cattle on monument allotments. The Grand Canyon Trust and Sierra Club also have targeted the monument “as their goal for locking out grazing,” Pollock said.

Garfield County and the Utah Attorney General’s Office have intervened in the lawsuit, which Pollock said he believes has pushed the BLM into pursuing the EIS process. A major consulting company also has been contracted to assist in defending data on behalf of interveners.

The Garfield County commissioner said 96.5 percent of his county’s land is federal and state property, with only 3.5 percent of it private land left to develop. The county has 5,300 residents.

“There’s more forest reserve in Garfield County than any other county in Utah,” Pollock said, noting environmentalists have succeeded in stopping mining and tree cutting in the area.

“We absolutely have to protect multiple use on that public land or it will dramatically impact private citizens. Environmental groups have shut down logging and sawmills. We’re trying to hang onto what little bit we have left,” Pollock said.

“As a county commissioner, one thing I’m sworn to do is protect the health, wealth and safety of the public; so many rely on cattle. …To protect the welfare of our citizens, we have to be aware of what’s going on on federal lands constantly. …Grazing and ranching are our way of life. We’ve drawn a line in the sand.”

Garfield County and Utah have zoned the area to allow grazing, stressing they must protect the area’s custom culture and heritage, including grazing. The National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) emphasizes historic values. The 1934 Taylor Grazing Act also guarantees ranchers can run cattle on the land, Pollock said, noting there are BLM officials who support multiple use on public lands.

Grazing in the monument area has been underway since 1870, Pollock said, estimating 6,000 head of cattle now graze there. Third or fourth generation families are running cattle on the land.

The National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) Act enacted in 2009, which includes the Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument under its purview, has created an entirely new bureaucracy with its own director in Washington D.C., Pollock said.

Regional BLM directors who favor multiple use now must strictly follow manuals to manage national monuments, which could phase out grazing, he said.

“The BLM is having a total ‘come apart’ trying to manage. … This has absolutely created a paradox on the monument,” Pollock said. “It’s the old multiple use guys against the tree huggers basically. … My opinion is this is ground zero. If this works out for the NLCS, Obama could create monuments all over, which would eliminate grazing. … The president can do it with the stroke of a pen.” — Mark Mendiola, WLJ Correspondent