April 13, 2006

Salt Lake Tribune

Opinion-Editorial
Kane County can't cope with free enterprise

By Tom Wharton

Kane County's history includes an experiment in the 1870s when Mormon leader Brigham Young tried a form of socialism in which residents pooled and divided resources for the common good. That didn't last long. But it appears Kane County's current conservative Republican commission still has a problem with the free-enterprise system.

How else can the commission's recent actions trying to subvert an environmental organization's purchase of Bureau of Land Management grazing rights be interpreted?

Between 1999 and 2001, the Arizona-based Grand Canyon Trust bought $1.5 million of grazing permits on 350,000 acres of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument land from willing sellers, with the idea of retiring those permits.

Fearing the loss of their area's agricultural industry, Kane County Commissioners sued to take away the trust's property, arguing the permits must be used to graze cattle. Even though the trust was using some permits for grazing, that wasn't enough.

Commissioners persuaded the Utah Legislature to spend more than $100,000 of state tax money to sue the BLM for issuing the permits to the Grand Canyon Trust. If an environmental organization sued to obtain grazing permits from a rancher, conservatives would call this "a taking." So how can they justify trying to grab the trust's legally obtained rights?

The lawsuit looks like a waste of taxpayer dollars. An administrative law judge and the Interior Department's Land Board of Appeals have already tossed Kane County's case, which is being argued by the state of Utah. Now the commission wants to take the matter to district court, likely squandering more money on a losing cause.

Since public-land ranchers have claimed for years that their permits are private property, going so far as using those permits as loan collateral, the case against the trust looks even more absurd.

Utah's free-enterprise-espousing politicians ought to be ashamed of themselves for wasting money on Kane County's frivolous lawsuit. The commissioners are far from the socialists who settled parts of Kane County in the 1870s, but don't seem to have a problem subverting the free market.