Sierra Club Glen Canyon Group
Contact: John Weisheit, GCG Chair, 435/259-1063
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 23, 2001
Sierra Club Glen Canyon Group Calls for End to Public Lands Ranching in Seven Southern Utah Counties
The Sierra Club Glen Canyon Group has adopted a resolution calling for an end to all domestic livestock grazing on public lands in its 7-county area in Southern Utah (Carbon, Emery, Garfield, Grand, Kane, San Juan, and Wayne counties). The resolution covers all lands managed in these seven counties by the Bureau of Land Management [BLM], the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service [USFS], the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the State Institutional Trust Lands Administration [SITLA].
"We were impelled to take this step," says Tori Woodard, Conservation Chair of the group, "by our growing awareness of the devastation caused by domestic livestock grazing to the fragile environment of our red-rock deserts and forests in Southern Utah. The fact that American taxpayers are subsidizing the destruction of their own lands by public lands ranchers is especially ironic."
As it has elsewhere throughout the West, livestock grazing in southern Utah has severely damaged riparian areas (seeps, springs, washes, streams, rivers). On BLM-managed lands, such as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the uplands between riparian areas suffer from destruction of microbial soil crusts, overgrazing of grasses and shrubs, and accelerated erosion and soil loss. Higher up, in the Dixie and Manti-La Sal National Forests, cattle and sheep are killing young aspen shoots, preventing regeneration of our aspen groves and contributing to the rapid loss of aspen, a species which is not only beautiful to the eye but essential to the health of our watersheds and our wildlife. In addition, domestic livestock grazing is increasing the risk of massive wildfires by removing the natural understory in our forests and preventing the frequent, low-intensity "cool" burns that prevailed before the introduction of livestock into Utah in the late 19th century.
The relentless damage to entire ecosystems and to soils caused by livestock, resulting in erosion and weed invasions, is recognized by USFS researchers as the principal factor in driving native species toward extinction in the Southwest.
"Cows and sheep are exotic species that do not belong in southern Utah," says John Weisheit. "The local environment evolved without them, and they need to be removed so our southern Utah wildlands and wild native species can start to recover."
The economic case for ending public lands grazing in southern Utah is no less persuasive. The national figures tell the tale. According to a special investigative supplement published by the San Jose Mercury News in 11/99, taxpayers lost $108 million on federal grazing programs in í98. That year, BLM, the USFS, and Animal Damage Control (now Wildlife Services) spent $140 million on grazing programs (including killing predators) but collected only $22 million in grazing fees (it actually costs a child more to feed a pet hamster than our government charges grown ranchers to feed a half-ton cow). Large corporations and millionaires benefited the most from subsidies, with the top 10% of grazing-permit holders on BLM lands controlling 65% of all livestock. On National Forest grazing allotments, the bottom 50% of permit-holders controlled only 3% of livestock. Nor is there a need for the meat produced on Western public lands. Less than 4% of the nationís cattle graze on public lands in the West; most beef production happens on private lands out on the Plains or in the South and the Midwest. The situation in southern Utah is no different from elsewhere in the West. For instance, rich hobby-ranchers like Steve Sorensen of Santa Barbara, California, or Mr. Oliphant of Oklahoma have bought up grazing permits on vast areas near Escalante and Hanksville, respectively, replacing family ranchers. They do not have to care whether they make money or whether their operations are sustainable. Meanwhile, the livestock industry has become an obsolete, economically marginal relic in our region. In Garfield County, for instance, recent statistics brand the agricultural sector (mainly public lands ranching) as a negative contributor to personal income. Leaving aside the rich hobby-farmers, those who engage in public lands ranching nearly all have second jobs as well, or family members with jobs in the non-ranching economy that keep their families afloat.
The ranchersí argument that public lands ranching should be allowed to continue because it is an indispensable part of the rural southern Utah economy, regardless of its devastating environmental effects and the heavy subsidies it receives, is out of date. A new economy, fueled by in-migration by retired people with non-labor income and younger people with new skills who are drawn to southern Utah by its natural amenities, as well as by expanding service industries (included but not restricted to tourism), is steadily replacing the old, hand-to-mouth, unsustainable extractive economy. This new economy benefits from the protection of our public lands, not their degradation.
The world of southern Utah is changing rapidly. What was necessary for survival in the old days, or what once seemed wise, has become unnecessary and has proven to be unwise. Public lands grazing is neither the highest nor the best use of southern Utah public lands. Instead, it is one of the very worst possible uses for them, both environmentally and economically. The Glen Canyon Group will be working to see that it is stopped as soon as possible.
Note: The Sierra Club Plateau Group recently took a similar stand regarding its part of Arizona. Non-Sierra Club organizations or individuals endorsing the Glen Canyon Groupís resolution currently include 3 regional groups (Center for Biological Diversity, Living Rivers, Western Watersheds Project), one state-wide group (Utah Environmental Congress), one local group (Escalante Wilderness Project), and two prominent grazing activists, Debra Donahue, former wildlife biologist for BLM and author of The Western Range Revisited and Conservation and the Law, and Larry Walker, retired BLM range conservationist and editor of "Range Biome" (http://rangebiome.org).