February 2, 2009

Two Utah counties lose again in monument grazing fight

Grand Staircase » Federal appeals court upholds purchase by conservation groups

By Patty Henetz
The Salt Lake Tribune

Two southern Utah counties have lost another round in their fight to reverse the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's decision to allow conservation groups to buy grazing allotments on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

The Denver-based 10th U.S. District Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a federal administrative law judge's 2006 ruling that the BLM had acted properly when it issued grazing permits to the Grand Canyon Trust and Canyonlands Grazing Corp. after the groups cut deals with ranchers to acquire their allotments and cattle.

The appeals court also affirmed an administrative law judge's decision to deny grazing permits to other individuals and upheld a federal district court's ruling that the counties didn't have standing to join with those individuals in their case.

Calls to county commissioners for comment were not immediately returned Monday.

In 2006, Kane and Garfield counties lost a federal lawsuit that claimed economic harm from the BLM's sale of the permits to the Grand Canyon Trust. In that ruling, the federal judge also found the counties lacked standing to continue pressing their case against the agency.

The Grand Canyon Trust -- based in Flagstaff, Ariz., and Moab -- spent $1.5 million to buy about 350,000 acres worth of monument grazing permits from 1999 to 2001 in what were deemed environmentally sensitive areas. The group originally intended to retire the permits, but instead bought and grazed a few cattle, including strays left on one of the allotments it acquired.

Last year, a Utah judge ordered Kane and Garfield counties to stop using a state defense fund to cover their federal court costs. At that time, the counties had spent more than $174,000 on the cases.