Someone here called it a modern version of the old-time range wars but without the threat of violence that once had sheepmen and cattlemen facing off over possession of a high mountain meadow or a waterhole.
This one has the U.S. Forest Service and a number of Sanpete Valley sheep ranchers taking opposite stands in negotiations on the future of a Manti Mountain track called the Rolfson-Chokecherry Trail.That trail cuts across an 80-acre tract, high on the mountain, that has been reseeded by the Forest Service to control erosion. Manti-LaSal National Forest officials propose to close that trail to use by sheep herders as a way of protecting the rehabilitated area.
For 10 years or so, Sanpete Valley sheep ranchers have driven their herds along the trail in getting their animals to their allotments on the east side of Manti Mountain in the spring and back to the valley in the fall.
The Forest Service wants those involved in the sheep industry to truck their sheep up Fairview Canyon in the spring and down in the fall in using their summer allotments.
The sheep ranchers say trucking the sheep would be expensive - around $48,000 annually, in an industry that is marginal - costly in terms of lamb losses in the spring and dangerous to men, equipment and animals on mountain roads. They add that some of the allotments cannot be reached by heavy trucks.
Some of the sheep ranchers have suggested that the Forest Service eliminate the 80 reseeded acres as an alternative to closing down the long-used trail, which apparently was established more than a century ago.
But Manti-LaSal National Forest Supervisor George Morris says the Price Ranger District plans to reseed other canyon areas that need rehabilitation.
David Peterson, Mt. Pleasant, chairman of the Sanpete Water Conservancy District, and a sheep rancher, says having to truck his sheep would force him to liquidate his operation.
"By preventing us from our access to the summer range, you are telling me I am through," he said in one of several meetings the sheep ranchers have had with Forest Service officers.
The issue is typical of what is going on throughout the West, with public land management people saying they have a commitment to the future and livestock operators seeing a threat to their industry.
How will the local confrontation be resolved? "It will likely go to a higher level for decision," said one county official, who asked not to be identified by name. "We're hoping for an acceptable compromise."