Lawsuit seeks Grand Staircase grazing plan

Published July 13, 2012 6:56 am
Range dispute • Conservationists say conditions violate BLM standards.
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An Idaho-based conservation group is suing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to force creation of a grazing plan to improve rangeland conditions at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

The agency promised a plan for 88 grazing allotments — currently permitted for 11,000 cow-calf pairs — shortly after President Bill Clinton created the 1.9 million-acre southern Utah monument in 1996.

Range surveys after that showed 21 allotments failed to meet BLM standards and needed improved grazing practices, but agency officials this year said the process never fully unfolded because it was so controversial with ranchers and area officials.

"We should expect better than this out of the BLM [everywhere], let alone where we're dealing with a national monument," said Jonathan Ratner, a Wyoming-based representative for Western Watersheds Project.

Now Western Watersheds and an ecologist formerly employed by the group are suing to demand a plan to improve the range on those 21 allotments along with a proposal to maintain the rest.

The lawsuit, filed July 6 in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., seeks timing restrictions and rotating rest periods on grazing in the affected grazing leases.

"Although BLM determined more than five years ago that these [improvements] are necessary, and the agency's implementing regulations mandate that such decisions be implemented 'not later than the start of the next grazing season,' " attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote, "BLM has not implemented any of these actions on the allotments, and is therefore unlawfully withholding and unreasonably delaying agency action."

The lawsuit also targets the grazing program on an adjoining segment of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and lists the National Park Service and Interior Department among the defendants.

The Interior Department, which oversees both the BLM and Park Service, declined to comment. BLM Utah Director Juan Palma did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

He previously has said he slowed a planning process earlier this year to take time to establish trust and buy-in from ranchers and locals. He has said he expects to resume the planning process next summer.

Palma also has said he believes conditions on most of the 21 questioned allotments have improved.

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