Commission protests forest service activity over grazing; call for county involvement

Stock image | St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Washington County Commission held a formal meeting Tuesday and, among other actions, passed a resolution requesting the United States Forest Service stop any actions pertaining to cattle grazing in Dixie National Forest, including studies it has undertaken among other things.

Washington County Commission Chair Alan Gardner talks about his concerns regarding the Untied States Forest Service, Washington County Administration Building, St. George, Utah, Jan. 20, 2015 | Photo by Devan Chavez, St. George News
Washington County Commission Chair Alan Gardner talks about his concerns regarding the Untied States Forest Service, Washington County Administration Building, St. George, Utah, Jan. 20, 2015 | Photo by Devan Chavez, St. George News

The commission met in its chambers at the Washington County Administration Building at 197 E. Tabernacle Street, and addressed a proposed resolution pertaining to the forest service’s involvement in grazing issues.

U.S. Forest Service, grazing on Dixie National Forest

The County Commission passed a resolution officially requesting the forest service immediately cease actions it has been taking since 2013 pertaining to grazing on Dixie National Forest.

The forest service actions protested include the gathering of data, conducting studies and preparing reports without the county’s involvement. The resolution further protests a cooperative relationship the forest service has engaged in with Grand Canyon Trust Inc., which the commission and the Utah Association of Counties maintain constitutes an improper relationship with nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs.

In its resolution, the County Commission “respectfully requests” the forest service discard any data, studies and reports prepared without notice and involvement of the county since 2013 and that the service coordinate with Washington County in any future action from the outset.

An undated letter from Mark Ward, senior policy analyst and general counsel for the Utah Association of Counties, (responding to an Aug. 18, 2014, forest action), supports and is made a part of Washington County’s resolution. In his closing, Ward wrote to the supervisors of Dixie National, Fishlake and Manti-LeSal forests, all affected by the Aug. 18 action:

Forest Service should scrap the FS Initial Review, start over and next time, integrate NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) into the process. After all, it is the stated policy of Forest Service to ‘fully integrate NEPA requirements into agency planning and decision-making,’ … and ‘apply (NEPA procedures) to the fullest extent practicable to analyses and documentation of Forest Service actions …’

Another concern is that the forest service is coordinating very closely with nongovernmental organizations, Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson said, like the Grand Canyon Trust, in compiling data regarding cattle grazing in the Dixie, Fishlake and Manti-La Sal national forests.

These NGOs have expressed intentions to limit grazing in these areas, he said.

“They can’t cooperate with agencies like that, is our opinion,” Iverson said. “They need to open the process up and make sure it’s very transparent.”

On behalf of the Utah Association of Counties, Ward argued that the forest service’s cooperation with the NGOs and its failure to give the counties cooperating agency status was legally improper. Summing up the concern, Ward wrote in his letter to the forest supervisors:

As for intensity, the NGO’s … website says it all, ballyhooing the potential severity of change this Action may bring (with confidence befitting only an in-the-know de-facto cooperating agency) with the banner phrase: ‘The Grazing World is Changing – Three New Forest Plans.’ – Parenthetical portion Ward’s.

Washington County is entitled by law to be involved in any forest service planning or proposed changes to current land management practices beginning at their earliest stages. According to the resolution passed Tuesday, the county has not received any communication from the Forest Service regarding any studies or plan to modify grazing practices.

United States Forest Pine Valley District Ranger, Joe Rechsteiner, talks with the commissioners about current grazing data in the area, Washington County Administration Building, St. George, Utah, Jan. 20, 2015 | Photo by Devan Chavez, St. George News
United States Forest Pine Valley District Ranger, Joe Rechsteiner, talks with the commissioners about current grazing data in the area, Washington County Administration Building, St. George, Utah, Jan. 20, 2015 | Photo by Devan Chavez, St. George News

Dixie National Forest’s Pine Valley District Ranger Joe Rechsteiner represented the forest service at the commission meeting. He read through some talking points highlighting what the forest service has been doing.

At this time, no proposals have been made regarding the grazing within these areas, Rechsteiner said. The assessment process — which the forest service is currently conducting — is new and has confused some organizations and people who have contacted the forest service, he said.

Rechsteiner said the purpose for the process is to determine if any amendment plan is necessary. The data collected to make these decisions will not solely be collected from the organizations in question, but will also come from specialists selected by the forest service and even from some members of the ranching community.

County Commissioner Zachary Renstrom had concerns.

“I come from a little bit more of a technical background and I know that data is king,” Renstrom said, “So we’re concerned … that the deck is kind of being stacked against us.”

What the exact end-goal of the forest service in these studies is may be unclear, but that they are done in anticipation of instituting changes is apparent.

“This isn’t necessarily an effort to end grazing,” Rechsteiner said, “but to maybe change the way we do graze.”

The County Commission voted unanimously to adopt its resolution requesting the forest service abide by its requests. Iverson also said he would like the resolution to be copied and sent to Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Stewart.

There was no representative from Grand Canyon Trust present at the commission meeting.

Other business

In other business the Washington County Commission unanimously voted to adopt a resolution to approve a cooperative agreement between Washington County and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

This resolution allows the county to supplement the agency with funds that go towards: monitoring the threatened desert tortoise; conducting an inventory and survey of Southwestern Willow Flycatcher nests; and an allowance to fund any backup assistance from DWR should the county need additional help.

Washington County Public Works Director, Ron Whitehead, addressed the commission regarding rehabilitation work being done on Shem Dam.

The dam was damaged after some floods in September, 2014, Whitehead said, and is in need of immediate repairs. Construction on the project began Tuesday and is expected to continue on for an estimated 109 days.

After getting the commissioners blessing for the project, Whitehead said he urges the public to use caution when traveling along Gunlock Road near Shem Dam during the construction period. Multiple trucks will be moving large amounts of sediment and other debris from the area, so people should keep an eye out for heavy equipment when driving.

If they need to travel the road, be cautious,” Whitehead said. “Watch for those trucks entering and exiting the highway so we don’t have any problems with accidents along that way.


READ MORE: Flood-damaged historic Shem Dam threatens bridges; rehabilitation bid awarded


The next Washington County Commission meeting will be held on Feb. 3 in the commission chambers at 4 p.m. The meeting is open and members of the public are urged to attend if they wish.

St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this report.

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13 Comments

  • Doc January 21, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    The WCC complaining about transparency has a certain delicious irony to it.

  • thomas monson January 21, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    Why is the county commission so upset ? Ranching on public lands costs the taxpayers more than just the money. These ranchers are being subsidized by the taxpayers. They really are “welfare ranchers” and cows on public land cause damage that no amount of money can repair. The solution ? Open up cow hunting for all the 2nd amendment fanatics and get the cows off public lands.

    • Chris January 21, 2015 at 8:49 pm

      You are correct that the ranchers are getting a handout from the federal government. Moreover, ranching is a miniscule part of the economy of this region. Tourism and outdoor recreation are many times more lucrative to the area’s residents. People need to forget the Hollywood image of the American cowboy, and focus on what is really important to our economic well-being.

    • Atleastiknowimstupid January 22, 2015 at 6:21 am

      Coward! Great Idea coward hunting on pub,I’d land.

  • Bender January 21, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    Hey Iverson, Gardner and Renstrom, since you speak for pioneer family land holders and the home building industry how about not squawking when someone that speaks for preservation wants a seat at the table? Whining about Grand Canyon Trust (GCT) being involved in data collection is petty and absurd. You good old boys aint worried about GCT helping to stack the cards against you… you’re worried that someone else might prevent you from stacking the cards yourselves.

  • utahbiller January 21, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    I wish the forest service would do a little study to determine why some rancher’s cattle are are too often stomping around in the snow, in the Pine Valley campgrounds when I drive up to ski there. Maybe they would figure out that the rancher doesn’t maintain his fence.

    • Atleastiknowimstupid January 22, 2015 at 6:26 am

      Utah biller, maybe you should check and see who doesn’t maintain their fence.
      You might get educated!

      • Bender January 22, 2015 at 4:46 pm

        Don’t be coy like a schoolgirl ATLEASTIKNOWIMSTUPID, tell us what you know.

  • beacon January 21, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    So, apparently it’s ok for the county commission to give approximately $25K of our tax money to the American Lands Council, an outside organization dedicated to securing our public lands, but it’s improper for the Forest Service to be involved with the Grand Canyon Trust, an organization interested in helping with grazing issues on our lands. May be a bit of hypocrisy showing itself here. Not surprising given new commissioner Iverson’s background and dedication to getting anyone out of the county he doesn’t like.

  • arts and letters January 22, 2015 at 8:14 am

    All good comments…more than a little hypocrisy in the Commission’s actions and much more than a little truth in the responses. I particularly support the idea that it’s time to give up the Old West cowboy movie scenario and join the rest of the world in the 21st century. There’s a link between that Old West thinking and the lead-off to the recent economic conference. And why is it that preserving old ramshackle buildings is more important than preserving the land around here? That’s a rhetorical question – I know the answer unfortunately.

  • Mike January 22, 2015 at 9:59 am

    I like how a right wing panel of Republicans are complaining about the forest Service asking actual *citizens* for their input on how the citizens’ own land should be used. How DARE the Forest Service talk to the actual owners of the land!

  • Koolaid January 22, 2015 at 10:26 am

    Who was the council guy who worked a land deal of public lands to build a huge development overlooking Snow Canyon park?

    • Chris January 22, 2015 at 6:04 pm

      That would be Alan Gardner and his brother, Larry, a former St George city councilman. They developed the Ledges overlooking Snow Canyon, and then, conned St George into annexing the development into the city and into building a water pipeline up the hill to provide water for the Ledges golf course at considerable expense to the taxpayers of St George.

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