Fun-hogs to replace cows in a Utah monument

 

As tourists flock to southern Utah's new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, ranchers are breaking camp and moving out. In December, the nonprofit Grand Canyon Trust announced it had brokered a deal between five ranching families and the Bureau of Land Management to retire or relocate grazing allotments on about 120,000 acres inside the monument.

"There will be no cows along the whole length of the Escalante River," said Bill Hedden, who works for the trust. "This protects the entire watershed in that area."

Cattle will be moved out of canyons that are especially popular with hikers and boaters. The cows will be relocated outside the monument and at higher elevations within it. At least 80 grazing allotments are still active in the monument.

Donations from individuals and foundations will pay the ranchers to retire their allotments. The price has not been made public, but Hedden said it was "well within fair market value.

"It's a nice example of environmentalists and the community working together," said Hedden. "It has been rare to see that in Southern Utah."

The ranchers were not as enthusiastic.

"We're getting run out down here," said Dell LeFevre, a fifth-generation rancher who traded more than 26 miles of grazing allotments along the Escalante River for others on Boulder Mountain, north of the monument.

The culprits, says LeFevre, are tourists and recreationists who have crowded into the canyons since President Clinton's 1996 proclamation put the region in the national spotlight. By 1998, visitation at the monument visitor center was up 43 percent from 1995 levels. At the Escalante River/Calf Creek trailhead, where part of LeFevre's grazing allotments were located, visitation jumped 48 percent by 1997.

"People keep going through and leaving the gates open. Then my cows get into areas they're not supposed to be and that means trouble for me," LeFevre said. "So I decided it was time to get out. I worked with Grand Canyon Trust and I got as good (a deal) as I could have ever got."

He admits that recreationists are not the only problem facing ranchers in the area. "I'm earning the same price for beef today as I did in 1973. But the cost of living is a lot higher. It's hard to make a living ranching these days."

Rancher Arthur Lyman and his father Ivan, who also sold out, are moving their operation to Oregon, but LeFevre is determined to live in the area. "I'm like one of those old bulls. I'm going to stay here as long as I can."

Deal could have holes

Last year, the Grand Canyon Trust worked a similar deal to retire grazing allotments in the Lost Spring Canyon addition to Arches National Park (HCN, 9/24/97). The bill that added Lost Spring to the park retired the allotments permanently. The Conservation Fund, a national group, used the tactic to retire allotments in a section of Horseshoe Canyon west of Canyonlands National Park several years ago.

As long as the rancher is willing to sell, such buyouts are legal, though critics say unless they're done carefully, they are not airtight.

"Right now, if a third party came in and sued the BLM for the right to graze on those allotments in the monument, they would probably have to re-issue the grazing permits in those areas retired under Grand Canyon Trust's plan," said Jeff Burgess, a grazing-rights activist in Arizona.

Hedden conceded that future managers could reopen the areas to grazing, but he doubted that would happen. "We have strong support in this plan from the BLM staff. They've been very far-sighted about this," he said. "In that area, it is not likely they will change the management plan back."

Burgess, the Santa Fe-based Forest Guardians and the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity of Tucson are part of a group that has asked the federal government for a guarantee that once ranchers retire their grazing allotments, agencies could not reissue them to someone else.

Under the proposal, the federal government would not pay ranchers for retiring allotments; conservation groups would. Then the land would be permanently cattle-free.

"I personally think this is the best way to go," says Burgess. The plan, which grew out of a conference in Park City, Utah, last June, would cut down grazing while giving ranchers financial incentive to move their cattle off public lands. "Once allotments were retired, they would stay that way," Burgess said.

Lisa Church writes from Moab, Utah.

YOU CAN CONTACT ...

  • Bill Hedden, Grand Canyon Trust, 435/259-5284;
  • Rancher Dell LeFevre, 435/335-7411;
  • Gregg Christensen, Bureau of Land Management, 435/826-4291.

Copyright © 1999 HCN and Lisa Church

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