October 4, 2006
Salt Lake Tribune
A pointless fight: Defense of grazing totally misplaced
The elected officials of two southern Utah counties may pretend, even to themselves,
that their protracted lawsuit over grazing rights in the Grand Staircase-Escalante
National Monument is a fight against overreaching environmentalists and a misdirected
But what Kane and Garfield counties are really fighting is the march of time.
So it is no wonder they keep losing.
The latest - and, hopefully, the last - setback for the counties came Friday
in U.S. District Court. Judge Tena Campbell correctly ruled that the counties
had no business trying to stop the willing sale of $1.5 million worth of federal
grazing permits to the privately funded willing buyers of the Grand Canyon Trust.
The Bureau of Land Management, which holds the land for all Americans, had approved
the sale and its own administrative law judge later upheld the action.
But, at a cost to state taxpayers now approaching $125,000, the counties persisted.
They claimed that, because the Grand Canyon Trust first pondered retiring the
land from grazing, then began making minimal use of the permits while the area's
land use plan was under way, the permits should go instead to ranchers who were
eager to use the permits to their fullest.
The judge rightly dismissed the counties' estimate of $170,000 in lost annual
revenue as pure conjecture. She might also have noted that, even if true, it
would be no different than losses local government always suffers when the marketplace
causes any business to close or relocate.
It's hard to imagine a county suing a grocer or auto dealer who decided the
market was too slim and left town. Harder still to imagine government trying
to stop said retailer from selling his property as a way of minimizing losses.
Given that the two biggest threats to the ranching way of life are over-grazing
and the monopolization of cattle buying power in fewer and fewer corporate hands,
the trust's plan to retire marginal lands and leave the most sustainably productive
lands in use is actually good for ranching.
At a time when that can be said about so little, the Kane and Garfield county
fight is not just pointless, it is downright harmful to the very interests local
officials claim to be defending.