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Overgrazing on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

President Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 to protect the rare geologic features, world-class paleontological and archaeological sites, as well as the fragile soils, vegetation and ecological communities, found within its 1.7-million acre range. The monument also includes thousands of acres of grazing allotments, which are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

As part of its effort to ensure that the resources of the monument are protected, in 2000 the Grand Canyon Trust began purchasing grazing rights to the most sensitive lands within the monument from ranchers willing to sell. The Trust's plan relinquished the grazing rights on those allotments to BLM on the condition that the agency amend its resource management plans to reduce or eliminate livestock grazing in those areas. Though there is no guarantee that grazing will never resume, the Trust has bought or traded for grazing permits in a series of transactions that collectively affect more than 200,000 acres within the monument.

Although Secretary Gale Norton and several Utah Congressmen hailed this plan as a perfect example of local cooperation in federal land management strategy, in January 2005 several ranchers and Utah counties filed suit in Utah federal court to overturn the BLM grazing decisions tied to the Trust's buy-out scheme. Their complaint claimed that BLM violated the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) by failing to notify Congress when it eliminated grazing on more than 100,000 acres.

Earthjustice attorneys intervened in this case on behalf of the Canyonlands Grazing Corporation and the Grand Canyon Trust to defend the grazing reductions on the monument. Shortly after Earthjustice moved to dismiss the ranchers' case, the ranchers capitulated and agreed to the immediate dismissal of their case.