Deals and delays for Dixie

  After a five-year Forest Service study found that cattle have eaten 94 percent of their allotted grass on the east slope of Boulder Mountain in southern Utah, Dixie National Forest ranger Marvin Turner made a decision. On June 1, Turner told cattlemen to reduce their grazing levels by 42 percent. Ranchers cried foul, and three months later, Turner's superior, Deputy Regional Forester Jack Blackwell, delayed the order until an outside committee can review the Forest Service data. Blackwell agrees that one look at the trampled vegetation on Boulder Mountain justifies cattle reduction, says agency spokeswoman Cindy Chojnacky, but the new study will "clear the air."

After Turner cut grazing, irate ranchers alleged the Forest Service falsified data to support fewer cows. Ranching advocate Carol Greer of Boulder, Utah, says she found five copies of the Forest Service report, each with a different set of numbers. "The Forest Service is caught in a fib so blatant it will be pretty difficult to deny-but they will," says Greer. On behalf of the ranchers, state Rep. Met Johnson appealed Turner's decision and asked U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno for a federal investigation into the Forest Service study.

Environmentalists believe a new study is a waste of time. Says Ken Rait of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, "the Forest Service kowtows to local cattlemen while Boulder Mountain gets crapped."

*Heather Abel

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