The National Park Service has purchased the grazing rights of four ranchers whose cattle have been grazing in Capitol Reef National Park.
The Park Service hopes this will end a controversy that has been simmering since establishment of Capitol Reef in 1971, but some environmentalists are not pleased with all aspects of the deal.Park Superintendent Martin C. Ott said the grazing rights existed under Bureau of Land Management control long before 1971.
Three grazing allotments, called Chimney Canyon, Waterpocket and Muley Twist, were purchased in their entirety. Significant parts of two other allotments also were acquired.
The $113,256 purchase removes 500 cattle from the park, or 2,500 animal unit months. An animal unit month is the right to graze one cow for one month; the grazing allotments are for the five winter months, so that amounts to 500 cattle.
Left in the park are 288 cattle, mostly near Cathedral Valley. Those removed were in the more spectacular areas of the park.
As part of the deal, the Park Service promised to support legislation to be introduced by Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, which would allow remaining ranchers to hang onto their grazing rights until the deaths of the children of those who owned the rights in 1971. The legislation is similar to laws affecting Grand Teton National Park, Wyo.
Mike Medberry, Utah representative of the conservationist group The Wilderness Society, said Monday he supports the buy-out but not the legislation - at least not yet.
"I think it's great that the park has bought as many animal unit months as they have," he said. "They've done a superb job of that and they should be seeking to buy the remaining animal unit months."
But Medberry said the Garn legislation is premature. The present law requires grazing to be out of the park in 1994 and a National Academy of Science study on the effects of grazing to be prepared before then.
The study should be carried out, he said. "And it would be appropriate for us to wait until (1994) to decide if any other legislation is needed."
Rodney Greeno of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said his group is against setting the precedent of placing a value on grazing permits. Also, he does not want to see legislation such as that envisioned by Garn.
Ott, a native of Tropic, Garfield County - adjacent to Bryce Canyon National Park - said he understands the strong position taken by stockmen in the past, because they feared the gradual shrinkage of public land available for grazing. He talked at length with ranchers and is confident that both sides gained valuable insights.
About $175,000 would be required to buy the remaining grazing rights, but Ott does not believe the ranchers would sell all of them willingly. The purchases so far were based on "willing buyer-willing seller" negotiations, he said.
The allotments acquired were where park visitors would be most likely to run across cattle or their leavings, in some of the park's best hiking areas.
In a Deseret News interview Monday, Ott called the deal a tradeoff.
"We agreed to support the idea of Grand Teton-type legislation for permittees who remain in the park," he said.
The two families who are most likely to stay under any Grand Teton-type phase-out "depend on the park for their winter range, almost entirely." Others had other grazing areas or were nearing retirement age and wanted to get out of the ranching business.