MOCCASIN, Arizona – Pickup trucks and horse trailers filled the parking lot and stretched down the street next to a community park in Moccasin, Arizona, Friday, as concerned ranchers and representatives from agencies like the Arizona Farm Bureau and the Arizona Game and Fish Department gathered together. Their aim? Fighting to save a way of life they say is being threatened.
“They’re backing the ranchers into a corner, and you’re going to see a lot of Cliven Bundys out there,” Bill Gubler, a rancher from Santa Clara, said.
Gubler currently ranches on the Arizona Strip and has cattle grazing allotments there, as do many of the people who were in attendance at the meeting. They say the generations-old practice of grazing cattle and ranching on the Arizona Strip is currently being threatened by a proposal that would designate 1.7 million acres of Arizona land as a national monument.
The proposed Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument would include lands on the Arizona Strip as well as the North Kaibab and Tusayan Ranger Districts of the Kaibab National Forest. Once designated a national monument, these lands would be subject to all the federal restrictions associated with that designation.
“It’s death by a thousand paper cuts,” Jake Rodgers, of J Bar S Ranches/County Line Farms, said. “You have to go by their regulations, and it’s so highly regulated.”
“If it’s turned into a monument, as proposed, our roles to actively and effectively manage will be all but gone,” he said. “They’re telling us we can continue grazing, but not in an effective manner – not in a way we can maintain what we’ve been doing and continue it for years to come.”
Rodgers said ranchers are being told grazing can continue once the land is designated a national monument – but, historically, national monument designation in other locations has effectively tied ranchers’ hands, restricting their abilities to effectively do business. National monument designation has also led to the degradation of lands the designation was supposedly put in place to protect.
“There’s not any other instances where grazing has been able to function effectively as a business (once a national monument has been designated),” Rodgers said.
Another national monument where cattlemen say this has happened is located just north of the Arizona border, at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.
Grand Staircase-Escalante was designated a national monument by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Existing livestock grazing permits were allowed to stay in force at the monument when the designation went into effect, but ranchers who graze their cattle there say the restrictions and policies that came with the designation have made ranching difficult – from water improvement restrictions to transportation restrictions. It is feared – and believed – the same thing will happen if the Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument is approved.
One thing national monument restrictions prevent ranchers from doing is creating and maintaining water systems, Rodgers said, such as drilling wells or installing pipe systems to bring groundwater to their cattle, and then performing the needed maintenance once those water structures are in place.
“If this was turned into a monument, even being able to haul water to the cattle would be nonexistent,” he said. “You couldn’t do it in an effective manner to maintain your business.”
Primary groups advocating for the monument to be established are environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, citing the protection of ecosystems and species as reasons the monument should be designated.
Craig Johnson, of Cane Beds, Arizona, is a lifelong rancher who studied ranching in college. He said what most people don’t realize is ranchers are the primary land stewards in the areas where their cattle graze, and the ranchers’ efforts and oversight benefit the land and the wildlife living there. Without cattle grazing, he said, cheat grass quickly gets out of control, for example, which creates wildfire hazards, ultimately costing millions of dollars. Additionally, water resources created and maintained by ranchers not only supply water to cattle but also to wildlife living in the grazing areas.
“You lose the water, you lose the wildlife,” Johnson said.
Those opposed to the Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument fear President Barack Obama will establish the monument by executive order, which would bypass any chance for Arizona residents and representatives, and others who would be affected by the designation, to provide feedback in the matter.
A letter sent from Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar’s office to Obama in February, and carbon copied to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, bore the signatures of 25 members of Congress, urging the president not to use an executive order to create the monument. A portion of the letter said:
A unilateral designation of the Grand Canyon Watershed as a National Monument would erode the extensive cooperation and success that federal and state agencies in Arizona have achieved to date. We urge you to respect and support the successful multiple-use of this land as currently executed.
“This land grab is not good for any of us,” Donn Pillmore, director of Arizona Strip operations for Energy Fuels Resources, said to the crowd assembled in Moccasin on Friday.
Pillmore spoke of mining restrictions that would result from the monument designation. He said some of the richest uranium deposits in the country exist in the area where the monument is being planned. Not only will the United States lose these rich mining resources, he said, but thousands of local people who make their livelihoods through mining will find themselves out of work.
Pillmore said the people who are advocating for the monument are primarily East Coast residents who don’t live locally and don’t know or work the land, but they are shown propaganda photos of the Grand Canyon and are told the miners are going to ruin it. They are similarly told cattle grazing is destroying the land.
“The main drive now for these environmental groups is to make it a monument so mining can’t happen again,” Pillmore said.
Pillmore added that in areas where uranium mining has occurred in the past, you’d never know a mine was ever located there.
In the face of impending changes, he said, his company will be moving its mining operations to the south side of the Grand Canyon in July.
Christy Davis, Arizona Farm Bureau field service manager over five Arizona counties – Coconino, Yavapai, Mohave, La Paz and Maricopa – said the proposed monument will affect tourism and hunting as well as mining and ranching.
“Everybody is going to be impacted by this,” she said. “And why? If they say nothing’s gonna change, then why do we need this? Why change anything if you say nothing’s gonna change?”
Historical practice has shown us that in designating these monuments, they say that nothing will change, that management of that land will not change. But what happens – historical practice shows us that it does change. They may start out in one direction, but then it goes into another. So, they may start out saying that we’re going to continue to allow you grazing, but then they cut your access off. Then they cut your ability to get to your cattle, to improve those lands, to do things to make sure that you’re doing things efficiently to be that cattleman on the market. They take those things away from you. So, they basically smoke you out. They make sure that you cannot do what you need to do in order to run that business.
Davis said the only chance of fighting the monument is for facts to be brought to the public’s attention and for concerned citizens to write letters expressing their opposition to the monument.
“People have got to write to their congressmen and their senators,” she said, “and they have to not only write to them and explain the situation but explain how it’s going to impact them – whether it’s going to take the job away from them, their dad, their mom, their sister, their brother, their uncle, their grandpa – whomever it’s going to impact, they need to let those people know.”
The Sierra Club had its members send thousands of preprinted postcards to Arizona Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick advocating for the monument, she said. Those opposed to the monument need to match those efforts by writing “good, heartfelt letters” expressing their opposition and the reasons behind it.
“Sen. (John) McCain said to us in a public meeting, ‘If I can wave 2,000 letters in the air while I am debating this on the Senate floor, that’s better than a phone call. Call me, yes – but send me a letter. Tell me why,’” Davis said.
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