'Odd couple' sues over grazing permits

  • OVERGRAZED IN ARIZONA: State land on the right

    John Horning photo
  Although Jon Tate of the Tucson, Ariz.-based Western Gamebird Association wants to get cows off some Arizona grazing allotments, he's not talking about endangered species or water quality.

"The reason we want to save this land is there's a bunch of little birds there that we want to shoot for fun," he told the Albuquerque Journal.

Now, Tate's group has found common ground with Forest Guardians, the activist group based in Santa Fe, N.M. In early May, the two groups filed a joint lawsuit against the state of Arizona.

"It might seem like an odd alliance to some, but we care about the same thing, and that's the habitat," says Forest Guardians' John Horning.

The groups had hoped to move cows off about 20,000 acres of state land by acquiring two 10-year grazing leases. Although they offered at least twice as much as other bidders, Arizona's Land Department denied their application.

Dennis Wells, the director of the department, says new allotment users must compensate previous users for grazing improvements like fences and artificial water sources. He says the groups did not offer to pay for these improvements on the allotments.

"They don't wish to follow the law, they wish to make a political statement and get lots of media attention," says Wells. "If they were really serious about taking over these permits, they'd address the question of grazing improvements."

"It's a total non-issue," responds Horning. His group has not made an offer on the grazing improvements, but he says they have compensated ranchers for improvements in New Mexico and would be willing to do so in Arizona. Says Horning, "Let us in the game, and we'll play by the rules."

*Michelle Nijhuis

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