On March 4, the Canyon Country Ranchers Association announced the Kanab-based group's intent to challenge the United States Bureau of Land Manage-ment's decision to retire four large grazing allotments on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
"Apparently, the BLM has adopted a policy that would eliminate grazing from the monument. Those opposed to grazing operate under a misguided philosophy that our public lands should be managed strictly for preservation purposes," pointed out Worth Brown, association chairman. "Documents we have obtained under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that the BLM has also adopted this philosophy, at least as far as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is concerned."
The cattlemen contend that the environmental assessments allowing the retirement of the grazing allotments were "sham documents written solely to facilitate a sweetheart deal with the Grand Canyon Trust ... the BLM tossed valid range science out the window in an attempt to eliminate grazing permits at the behest of the preservation group."
"The environmental assessments are a total misrepresentation of the facts and a complete distortion of monument policy," maintained Brown.
The association alleges the assessments were based on the trust's negotiations to buy out ranchers rather than on valid agency action or range conditions. The trust purportedly approached stockmen and offered cash payments to purchase of a voluntary relinquishment security interest in connection with the allotments. The contracts obligate the cattlemen to turn in grazing permits to the BLM before the federal agency can eliminate grazing from an allotment. Under normal procedures, grazing on an allotment would continue under a different permittee, explained Brown.
The cattlemen group claims that the BLM violated the law by deciding to eliminate grazing before completing the planning documents. The issue is not whether a rancher can sell an allotment - allotments are bought and sold frequently. The issue is whether a preservation organization can purchase a grazing permit, then secretly negotiate an agreement with the BLM to permanently retire the permit, concluded the cattlemen group.