Ranchers test an agency's image

  Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt boasts that the BLM is moving away from its early reputation as the "Bureau of Livestock and Mining" to a more conservation-minded agency overseeing national monuments around the West (HCN, 11/22/99).

This summer, when managers ordered cows off Utah's drought-stricken Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, that new reputation was put to the test. On June 2, monument manager Kate Cannon warned all 17 ranchers who hold grazing permits on the monument that they would likely have to pull out early. By mid-July, all but three ranchers had voluntarily pulled their herds off the range.

On Aug. 18, Cannon ordered the three holdouts, Gene Griffin, Quinn Griffin and Mary Bulloch, to remove most of their herds by Sept. 1, or the Bureau of Land Management would impound the cows at the ranchers' expense. Her range scientists had reported that 80 to 90 percent of the forage had been used up. The maximum legal limit is 60 percent.

Instead of following Cannon's orders, the ranchers went to the Cedar City office of the BLM and worked out a deal. BLM manager Arthur Tait agreed to give the Griffins and Bulloch until Sept. 15 to remove their cows. The agency would also provide feed and water until the cows could be trucked away.

Bill Hedden with the Grand Canyon Trust said that by sidestepping Cannon's order, the agency kowtowed to ranchers who have "nuked" the range. "The key question," he said, "is with Babbitt designating all these new monuments, will it mean something on the ground?"

State BLM spokesman Glenn Foreman said allowing the three ranchers to remove their cows later was the most efficient way to get the job done. "That's why we were given this monument," he said. "We have a forte of being compromising."

On Sept. 18, the BLM reported that there were still 100 cows on the monument.

* Greg Hanscom
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