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Aging sagebrush rebel keeps up fight against feds

By John Miller

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Nov. 27 2011 2:17 p.m. MST

NAMPA, Idaho — A 75-year-old lawyer who fought private property rights battles alongside Idaho U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth and her Nevada rancher husband Wayne Hage in the 1990s is still cultivating the Sagebrush Rebellion's roots.

Fred Kelly Grant has been slowed by age and heart surgery, but he's in demand from counties — and tea partyers who attend his $150-per-person seminars — as conservative elements in the West's continue to clash with the federal government.

California's Siskiyou County is paying Grant $10,000 to help block removal of four Klamath River dams. Montana and Idaho counties have enlisted him to trim hated wolf populations and thwart U.S. Forest Service road closures.

What Grant preaches is "coordination," the theory that federal agencies by law must deal with local governments when revising their public land travel plans or protecting endangered species. Grant insists he's not reviving the discredited "county supremacy" movement, in which a Nevada county once threatened federal employees with prosecution.

"This is not nullification," simply ignoring federal mandates, he told The Associated Press. "Coordination is working within the system to try and make the system work."

Hage, who died in 2006, epitomized the Sagebrush Rebellion by battling the federal government over water rights. Chenoweth, killed the same year in a car crash, worried that federal agents would arrive aboard black helicopters to enforce the Endangered Species Act.

Grant, a former federal prosecutor in Maryland who once helped guide Stewards of the Range, the Hage family's property-rights nonprofit, started his own foundation last year. He, a son and daughter-in-law now give seminars, often to tea party groups, on how locals can demand coordination when Washington, D.C. isn't listening.

Grant insists he's no radical, but he's not above fanning the flames. In 2009, he told a crowd angry about road closures in California's Shasta-Trinity National Forest that he once dismissed those who claimed the United Nations and U.S. government sought to eliminate people from public land as crackpots who saw "a communist behind every sagebrush."

"I thought it was a conspiratorial theory," Grant said, in video footage. "It's not."

Some environmentalists are dubious of Grant's "coordination," saying it's so much fodder on the conservative rubber-chicken circuit for a restive Western audience long unhappy with federal management of vast tracts of public land.

"He's saying a county should adopt its own plan, and the federal government is obliged to make sure its plan is consistent with the local plan," said Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds Project director in Hailey, Idaho. "It's nullification by another name."

Grant insists federal courts side with him.

In 2001, a U.S. District Court judge in Utah ordered the Bureau of Land Management to remove wild horses resettled in Uintah County, in part because the agency didn't coordinate with local officials.

"Coordination does not mean the county gets its way," Grant said. "What it means is, the federal government should be discussing policy with the county, and considering alternatives."

He cites Idaho's Owyhee County, where he says coordination between locals and the BLM beginning in 1990 resolved grazing disputes — and led to ranchers' support for 500,000 acres of federally protected wilderness created here in 2009.

In California's Modoc County, officials say coordination begun in 1993 helped resolve disputes, including halting plans to curtail grazing.

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