Locals Depend on the Land to Make a Living
It is foreign to many to think that the residents of San Juan County rely on the land to make a living. But, the facts are, the people who choose to live in this rugged area choose to live here because of the land. And because of that, many use that land, the land that they love, to survive.
We have compiled a list of occupations that will suffer at the hands of the monument designation. Some occupations many do not approve of, and some say these occupations will be replaced with tourism jobs. But should the federal government be allowed to dictate the type of jobs allowed in the Bears Ears National Monument area? Should bureaucrats living thousands of miles away be able to tell you which job you get to have?
The biggest occupational debate is cattle.
Cattlemen are probably the largest group who rely the most on the land within the monument to make a living. There are currently 43 grazing allotments within the national monument. While cattle ranching is not a large industry on a national economics scale, it is important to local economies.
Cattle ranchers provide local jobs, purchase most of their goods locally, and contribute to a tax base for local infrastructure. They also pay fees to use public lands, contributing to land improvements.
Cattle provide a natural fertilizer for the land, helping promote a healthy plant life. Cattle also reduce the risk of forest fire by keeping the vegetation from growing out of control. While an overgrown field of grass and flowers may look beautiful to you, come fall, when all that plant life dies, it only takes one stray spark to ignite the entire area.
It has been hypothesized that without land management by ranchers the value of natural resources would decrease. The Forest Service and the BLM receive 45-50% of their project funding from grazing fees; that includes projects such wildlife habitat, archeological site preservation, and watershed enhancements (1).
How does a monument designation risk cattlemen jobs?
Prior to President Clinton’s administration, grazing rights in national monuments and parks were preserved.
President Clinton changed that. Sometimes, the monument rules allowed ranching to continue without any change. Sometimes, the language was vague and gave the Secretary of the Interior power to retire the permits. This is the case with Bears Ears National Monument. This was also the case in the establishment of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. With that monument, the language also specified that if any permits were voluntarily retired, they would not be reallocated. (2)
A fine example of what the local community in the Bears Ears area is facing is what happened in Great Basin National Park. With the creation of the Great Basin National Park in 1986, grazing was promised to continue indefinitely. However, complaints from park-goers over cattle grazing on the land eventually led to the buy-out of permits from cattle ranchers in the area. (4)
As we wait for the official monument policies and procedures to be written (which this can take up to five years), we are very aware that these are some of the possibilities that cattlemen in San Juan County will face.
What Will Happen
Local ranchers have already been told by radical environmental groups that they do not want to see any cattle on the Bears Ears National Monument. In Grand Staircase Escalante cattle permits were promised to be honored. They were not. Cattlemen in the area report grazing allotments reduced by up to 60%. Others have been allowed allotments but are not allowed the hired hands that they need to maintain fences and manage herds.
Authorized grazing within BLM managed lands has dropped by nearly 50% since 1950 but the beef consumption in the USA continues to rise. BLM employees and environmentalists alike speak to the ultimate goal of removing all cattle from local land, despite the benefits of grazing allotments. It is no different for San Juan County.
As more control and decision-making over multi-land use is taken from the local residents and given to the Department of Interior, a department over 2000 miles away, cattlemen are not being heard. Groups such as Friends of Cedar Mesa, Great Old Broads, SUWA, and even employees of the BLM are fighting to remove cattle from all public lands.
While radical environmentalist lobby politicians and bring in millions of dollars to achieve their goals, cattle ranchers are out in the wildness, raising cattle, building fences, maintaining land, and earning a living. They live and breathe this land. If they do not treat it right, they lose everything they have worked towards their entire lives. Now it can also be taken away without a moment’s notice as decisions are being made for cattle ranchers and not with them.
Other jobs that are at risk without access to the land include:
- Construction companies with gravel pits
- Hunting guides
- Tour guides
- Stone quarries
There are fewer business owners and employees in these categories, but their livelihoods are just as important than any one else’s. Decisions made within the local landscape are stripped from local governments or entirely ignored, as with the monument designation itself. This travesty puts all of these jobs at risk. They will continue to be at risk as long as the monument remains in place and the voices of the local officials and people are silenced.
There are businesses that will suffer on a secondary level. For instance, farmers who grow hay will loose the cattle ranchers who are forced to graze their cattle elsewhere. Business like this include:
- School teachers & advisors
- Local hardware stores
- Butcher ShopsWhen did it become okay to take away livelihoods? When did it become okay to force people out of their profession? Jobs will be lost. Homes will be lost.
2. See Pamela Baldwin and Carol Hardy Vincent, National Monuments and the Antiquities Act, Congressional Research Service Report RL30528 (April 17, 2000), http://digitallibrary.utah.gov/awweb/awarchive?type=file&item=75952