The Sierra Club charges that federal officials have given in to livestock interests in a proposal to rip out native vegetation on 8,300 acres of southern Utah's rugged Henry Mountains.
April 19 is the deadline for public comment on the Bureau of Land Management's draft environmental assessment on the Henry Mountain Coordinated Resource Management Plan. It covers an area about 25 miles south of Hanksville, in eastern Wayne and Garfield counties.Comments should be mailed by then, addressed to BLM district manager Donald L. Pendleton, P.O. Box 7672, Richfield, UT 84701.
The most controversial part of the plan calls for "treating" 8,300 acres of land not previously treated and maintaining or rehabilitating treatment on another 4,300 acres. By treatment, the plan means chaining or roller-chopping
Chaining is a method of ripping out native pinon and pines by dragging an anchor chain between two bulldozers. Roller-chopping is done by dragging a 10-foot-tall drum behind a bulldozer. The drum chops up shrubs and small trees.
In both techniques, the land is replanted with vegetation better suited for cattle grazing.
The plan calls for converting 13 percent of the pinon-juniper and 14 percent of the sagebrush in four grazing allotments to grasslands.
Not all environmental groups are opposed to the plan.
A BLM press release on the project quotes Gary Macfarlane, natural resource specialist for the Utah Wilderness Association, as saying the plan "is a compromise that offers something for all parties involved.
"We view this is as a win-win situation . . . This is good for wilderness, good for wildlife and good for the range." The UWA was part of the planning effort that developed the plan.
Also supporting the plan although not necessarily every aspect are the Utah Wildlife Federation and the Utah Farm Bureau Federation.
But James Catlin, conservation chairman of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, says groups like the Sierra Club were excluded from the planning.
A reason some environmentalists believe they won with the plan is that chaining will not be allowed in wilderness study areas, contrary to earlier ideas. But Catlin said the BLM is only putting off chaining there, with the intention of doing it later.
He said the BLM believes Congress will reject wilderness there. "They put it in the future list of projects," he charged.
The BLM is committed to double cattle grazing in the Henries, he said. At the same time, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources increased the Henry Mountains buffalo herd by almost 75 percent, from 200 buffalo in 1980 to 375 in 1987.
"By law, BLM is required to manage the rangelands for sustained yield," Catlin said. The number of domestic livestock must be managed to prevent overgrazing, he said.
"BLM has backed away from this policy in the Henry Mountains for political reasons."
The conservationist thinks that state wildlife managers see the buffalo herd as a cash crop, since out-of-state hunters pay fancy prices for a chance to bag a buffalo.
"You find streams going down the mountains. Where there once was cascading water over rocks, now is a sea of cow and buffalo hoofprints in the mud."
The range is deteriorating because of overgrazing, he said. Catlin cited an experimental plot where livestock is fenced out at Airplane Spring.
"Never have the Henry Mountains been in such a bad state since the whites came to the West than now. It's an escalating problem."
The plan was written by the Henry Mountain Coordinated Resource Management Team. The team was set up in May 1986, and the BLM says it consists of local officials, interested individuals including grazing interests, wilderness group representatives, and federal and state officers.
But the team didn't fairly represent the public, Catlin said. And it met only in Hanksville during working days, making it nearly impossible for interested participants from Salt Lake City to attend.
"They chose the people they thought would help them get this process going," Catlin said.