Monumental mayhem: Ranchers worry Bears Ears, Gold Butte monuments will harm economy
What is a monument and where are the two new ones? The 1906 Antiquities Act gives presidents the authority to unilaterally “protect” parcels of land. Under the act, the smallest piece of land required to facilitate good management can be designated for “... the protection of objects of historic and scientific interest.”
Many believe the act has been misused by presidents to restrict access and use to vast pieces of federal land in the West.
President Roosevelt first used the act to memorialize Devils Tower, and later designated the Grand Canyon as a monument.
After controversy following the designation of Jackson Hole in Wyoming in 1943, the act was amended in 1950 to require congressional approval for any additional Wyoming designations. Similarly, Alaskans were outraged over a sweeping move by President Jimmy Carter to designate over 50 million acres in their state, and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act was passed to require congressional approval for any future Alaskan monuments 5,000 acres or larger.
President Obama’s latest two monument designations - Gold Butte in Nevada (about 300,000 acres) and Bears Ears in Utah (about 1.35 million acres) bring his total number of monument acres to 550 million, more than any other U.S. president, although much of it is underwater.
The Gold Butte monument, in southern Nevada, lies between Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon.
The Bears Ears monument sits in southeastern Utah, east of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, almost in the four corners area where Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona adjoin the state.
Property rights advocate and Nevada rancher Kathy Smith believes the Gold Butte designation was a retaliatory measure toward the Cliven Bundy family, who has sparred with the President’s administration regarding BLM land management policies for years and in the national spotlight since 2014. The Gold Butte monument encompasses the Bundy’s BLM grazing allotments. (see the Jan. 31, 2016 edition of Tri-State Livestock News to read the Bundys’ response to the monument designation.)
Smith feels like in many cases, hardworking American agriculturists are being punished when they should be rewarded for good management that produces attractive, protection-worthy rangelands and forestlands.
“Everyday American familes that are trying to work the land and stand their ground on their own home ranch, they are being made examples of.”
“This isn’t just a Western lands issue, this is a private property rights issue,” said Smith, who believes that that even property owners in the eastern United States where federal land is scarce, experience federal overreach in the form of burdensome EPA or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulations.
Editor's Note: We have compiled a list of all the articles we have published, as well as a timeline of the events, surrounding the Bundy Standoff and other incidents relating to government control of public lands such as the Hammond Fire Trial and the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Click here to read more.
Sandy and Gail Johnson aren’t giving up hope.
Sandy says he’s not giving up his grazing land – private or public – either.
While their entire ranch – deeded pasture, state land as well as grazing allotments on Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service are encompassed by one of President Obama’s two most recent monument designations, Sandy says he doesn’t know what is going to happen.
“They aren’t going to take it because I won’t stand for it,” said the Utah rancher who, like others in the region, relies on federal grazing allotments for summer and winter livestock range.
Johnson, a Vietnam veteran has got his Utah governor, senators, state lawmakers and county commissioners behind him.
While he supports protection of the 1.35 million acres (about the size of South Dakota’s Shannon County) in and around the Bears Ears, he worries that with the creation of a monument, careless tourists will cause destruction.
“It’s in multiple use now, and that’s how it should have stayed,” said Johnson, explaining that off-roaders, hunters and others were able to responsibly utilize the federal land prior to the designation.
“You put a monument name on it and lots of people come and then they destroy everything.”
And there are more concerns than just an overload of visitors. Without responsible grazing and management, forage becomes a fire hazard and invasive weeds take over.
“Through the BLM, in the years past, we’ve been able to work together and manage brush, cedar trees, things like that. You have to take care of stuff like that to have good grass.” Johnson said he has maintained a good working relationship with local land management agency staff.
He expects with the monument designation, his hands and those of his local BLM and Forest Service office will be tied and practical management will be difficult, if not impossible.
While President Obama, in his press statement, said the monuments (Bears Ears in Utah – 1.35 million acres and Gold Butte in Nevada — about 300,000 acres) came “following years of public input,” Johnson and others say much of that input was in the form of “no.”
Johnson and others say the president ignored pleas of ranchers and local tribes to leave the area alone.
Jim Keyes, a local rancher who also works as an extension beef specialist for Utah State University, said the newly designated monument borders, but does not take in, his family’s winter range.
He, too, said the action was contrary to the desires of the local residents.
“I’ve sat in on literally dozens of meetings the last two years. The Navajo tribe said ‘We don’t want this. It will restrict what we can do. We won’t be able to gather firewood.’
“We went to meetings,” said Johnson. “The local people here in San Juan County don’t want this monument. The governor was against it and all the senators here were against it.”
But a small group of Navajos joined forces with a group called the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and together, the groups worked to achieve the designation.
Some of the Navajo supporters were local but many were not, said Johnson.
“I hope Trump throws it out,” Johnson adds. But such a thing has never happened.
Obama and many environmental groups say it can’t legally be done but others disagree.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, said in a news release, he plans to file a lawsuit challenging the designation, and believes he’s got a chance of winning. Plan B is legislation.
“This case is different from other past challenges by states and counties and we are confident in our chances of success. But the courtroom is not our only option. Our federal delegation is working hard to defund the designation or rescind it altogether. Additionally, we look forward to working with the new Presidential Administration on ways to curtail or otherwise address the designation,” said Reyes in a news release.
“Utah’s public lands deserve stewardship, but through the appropriate avenue of Congressional action with real participation of state, local and tribal leaders,” said Reyes.
Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz said compromises were being discussed, but ended up being thrown out in the lame duck president’s last minute move.
“After years of painstaking negotiations with a diverse coalition, Utah had a comprehensive bipartisan solution on the table that would have protected the Bears Ears and provided a balanced solution. Instead, the president’s midnight monument cherry picked provisions of the Public Lands Initiative and disregarded the economic development and multi-use provisions necessary for a balanced compromise.
“…the so-called tribal coalition supporting the monument over the objections of their own Utah members will quickly find they have been misled. The president’s promise of co-management between the tribes and the federal government cannot be gained through executive action. Only Congress can authorize such agreements – and the administration made little effort to help facilitate legislation that would have done so,” said Chaffetz in a news release.
The President also promised, “We have worked to ensure that tribes and local communities can continue to access and benefit from these lands for generations to come.”
But history has proven otherwise with monuments across the west.
Keyes worries his home community that lost the economic support from mining several decades ago, will now lose its last remaining industry — livestock.
Johnson said Obama doesn’t need to fix what ain’t broke. “Before they named this monument, it was in multiple use for everyone to use and the land was protected and everyone got along,” he said.
“The BLM and Forest Service will still be in charge but you know, they will start putting restrictions on it. If they weren’t going to put restrictions on it, they wouldn’t need to name it as a monument.”
Keyes said he’s worked on the reservation since 1977. The Navajos collect firewood and plants on the designated area, and also consider some of the cultural and archeological sites sacred.
The designation will likely put a halt to those activities.
The land is pristine and worthy of protecting because of, not in spite of, ranchers’ tender, loving care.
“These sites have been here for 900 years, according to scientists, and they haven’t disappeared yet. Why do they think we need to tie it up?” Keyes said his winter range includes “Indian ruins peppered throughout it,” that have been left untouched.
The fear of local ranchers, Keyes said, is that impractical management rules will make it impossible for them to make a living as they have for so many years.
“There will be places they’ve grazed forever where they won’t be able to clean up a reservoir because of restrictions on mechanized equipment or even bring in a chainsaw to fix fence.”
Around 23 or 24 ranchers will be directly impacted, Johnson said.
Johnson said he’s been told that he and other ranchers will be allowed to continue grazing his cattle on his federal grazing allotments and state land, but he has watched firsthand as some of his neighbors have been forced off the Grand Staircase Escalante monument — designated in 1996 by President Bill Clinton in a controversial move, and other local ranchers from nearby Colorado were forced off their operations when Colorado’s Dinosaur National Monument came to be.
Some ranchers who previously grazed federal land on the Grand Staircase Escalante, were forced to sell their private land and exit the area. They were unable to responsibly manage their grazing permits, making their ranches unprofitable and forcing them to leave.
Johnson said other ranchers within that monument were forced to sell under the eminent domain law.
Many of the ranchers who continue to graze on federal land allotments have experienced grazing reductions and other challenges.
Some ranching families from the nearby Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and the Dinosaur National Monument, were unable to operate their ranches because monument rules forbid the use of mechanized vehicles – even to travel in and out of their own home yards. These families had no choice but to sell their de-valued ranches and leave the area.
Johnson is not going to give up hope for his home community.
“We need these jobs. We need this to live,” he said. “Our grandkids want to take over this ranch someday. We’re doing this for them.”
Johnson’s wife, Gail, fears the worst, after seeing firsthand the effects on the Grand Staircase Escalante. “They’ve ruined the timber industry, their schools have dried up, they don’t have any money left to keep the schools open. I’m afraid that’s where we’re headed.”