December 7, 2005

Rocky Mountain News

Market conservation in the cross-hairs

A conservationist effort to restore depleted grazing land in southern Utah is in trouble because of local opposition. According to The New York Times, the Grand Canyon Trust has spent more than $1 million to end grazing on more than 400,000 acres near the Escalante River.

The trust cut deals with willing ranchers whose cows couldn't get fat on the hard, dry soil anyway and were happy to sell off their grazing rights. But now these deals are under unfair attack by local politicians who've filed suit to roll back the agreements. The case is pending before an administrative law judge in the Interior Department, and could end up in federal court.

Michael E. Noel, the Republican state representative leading the attack, claims that allowing the sale of some grazing rights means "we go down the path of eliminating all grazing on public lands."

That's preposterous, but the fact that the deals are under attack points up how even the best-intentioned activities can be thwarted when they're conducted on public lands. The government is the owner, and the government is always subject to shifting political winds.

Bill Hedden, executive director of the trust, has said he's going to stop buying grazing rights in the area because of the opposition.

Those grazing rights should probably be put up for sale to the highest bidder. Then whoever bid on them would not have to worry about political attacks thwarting their goals.