Yesterday, Western Watersheds Project sued the U.S. Forest Service in Utah for allowing ongoing overgrazing on Monroe Mountain by a handful of non-compliant permittees. The agency, faced with threats of armed resistance, has capitulated to rancher demands by allowing excessive stocking rates, repeated trespass, and flouting federal regulations. It’s a story that repeats itself too often on Western public lands: in order to avoid conflict and confrontation, the federal agencies just give in to outlandish behavior.
The Forest Service was planning to do the right thing and cut the permits on Monroe Mountain back in 2013. The ranchers responded with intimidation and hostility, and so the agency, fearing another Bunkerville, has since gone overboard in accommodating these bad actor permittees, working around the requirements for permit renewals by repeatedly offering “temporary” permits to the ranchers, unlawfully failing to respond to appeals of grazing decisions, ignoring requirements to incorporate sage-grouse protections into permits, and allowing increases in cattle numbers without the requisite environmental analysis.
In the spring of 2019, the agency’s Washington, D.C. office ordered the local Forest Service managers to waive basic permit terms such as requiring ear-tagging of cattle on public lands and eliminating any land stewardship obligations. But these lands do not belong to the ranchers, and grazing on them is a privilege.
A recent site visit shows that the livestock are still badly overgrazing the allotments, that the infrastructure is in disrepair, and that cattle are staying well past the “off date” required by the permits. It’s a mess, and every time the Forest Service gives in to these types of behaviors, it inspires further noncompliance.
The Forest Service may be too scared of the permittees to enforce the laws, but Western Watersheds Project isn’t.