A coalition of environmental groups have forced public land managers to delay a grazing permit decision on Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
Grand Canyon Trust, Western Watershed Project, Wild Earth Guardians, National Resource Defense Council, Wildlands Defense, the Sierra Club and Durango-based Great Old Broads for Wilderness collectively filed a 27-page protest against the proposed Flodine and Yellow Jacket grazing allotments on the monument.
The groups do not believe grazing is compatible with the monument’s mission to protect ancient ruins, and they want the two allotments permanently closed to grazing.
They also believe additional range analysis is needed that considers current drought conditions, and say procedures required under the National Environmental Protection Act were not followed.
“They’re relying on range data from 2001 before the drought and NEPA analysis from 2005. We contend that is not legally sufficient,” said Rose Chilcoat, association director for Great Old Broads. “They need to start over and tell us what the condition is in 2015.”
The groups challenged a recent decision plan by the BLM to issue 10-year terms for the allotments, located in southwest Montezuma County.
In response, monument managers agreed last month to repeal their plan to issue the permits at this time.
“After considering the protests received in this grazing decision, the BLM has determined that further analysis is warranted,” stated monument manager Marietta Eaton in a Sept. 15 letter.
Eaton said an environmental assessment (EA) will be conducted over the next year to determine grazing feasibility on those particular allotments.
“Range studies will be done in the spring to measure improvements, and there will be a public comment period before a decision is made,” Eaton said.
The land has not been grazed since 2005, but objectors claim it has not been long enough for a full recovery.
“Resuming cattle grazing now will likely tip the vegetation balance in favor of cheat grass rather than native grasses,” the protest states.
It goes on to say that thousands of acres recently purchased by the monument, including the Wallace Ranch, are within the proposed allotments but have not been sufficiently analyzed to determine grazing impacts on cultural resources.
Trespass horses on the monument are also impacting monument rangeland, the groups say, a problem that needs more attention.
The setback on the decision to issue the Flodine and Yellow Jacket allotments was disappointing for Montezuma County commissioners, who were led to believe they were cleared to be issued to local ranchers.
“You sat right here and said the process was moving forward,” said commissioner Keenan Ertel when told of the news.
Since 2013, the county has been pushing for the two allotments to be re-opened for grazing.
“We have not had much compromise from federal agencies,” said commissioner Larry Don Suckla. “If you think you will be sued, I say stand behind your work and decisions.”
The BLM announced in December 2013 that the allotments would be opened up for local cattle ranchers, and an application process began.
Interest has been high for the allotments, reported BLM range specialist Mike Jensen, with 14 ranchers interested so far.
But they will have to wait.
“The EA will take some time, and having all the information in one document will bring clarity to the public,” Eaton said.
There are 26 grazing allotments across the 171,000-acre monument, but due to drought, livestock numbers have been cut significantly over the last 10 years, Eaton said.
Despite opposition and threats of lawsuits to stop it, grazing “is an appropriate use of public lands as stated in the Monument Proclamation and the Resource Management Plan,” she said.
Before the setback, Flodine was scheduled to allow 57 cattle from October to February, and Yellow Jacket would have allowed 86 cattle between Dec. 7 and Feb. 28.
Grazing in spring on the monument is restricted to protect fresh vegetation, and it is banned in the high-recreation areas of Sand Canyon and East Rock Canyon.
Former monument manager LouAnn Jacobson and local citizen MB McAfee also filed protests against the two grazing allotments.