A peaceful resolution is on the horizon for at least part of the dispute over cattle impounded and then wrested from federal control in southern Utah.
The dispute involves 44 cows rounded up by Bureau of Land Management wranglers and removed from the range at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. They were later taken from federal control Nov. 7 at an auction house in Salina in an action the U.S. Attorney's Office brands as vigilantism.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, six or seven of the cattle were grazed by Quinn Griffin, Escalante, while the rest belonged to rancher Mary Bulloch, Kanab.
A separate impoundment was carried out last week, with about 25 cattle rounded up and kept by the BLM. About 10 of these were Griffin's and the rest Bulloch's, said Griffin. These cattle are still held by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
"We are in the process of reaching agreement" involving cattle from the Griffin grazing allotment, Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Salt Lake City, said Wednesday.
But the dispute is not as close to a solution for the larger group of cattle, belonging to Bulloch.
Whatever happens, though, any talk of a Waco-type confrontation is unjustified, says Rydalch.
"We are not going to seize the cattle," said Rydalch. "We are not going to go back down to get the cattle. The discussion we're having is about the rule of law."
Griffin, interviewed by phone on Wednesday, said he has looked over a proposed agreement pending a final settlement. It looks like something he can live with, he said.
In June, monument manager Kate Cannon notified ranchers with grazing permits in the monument that drought conditions would force their cattle off the range. All except three voluntarily removed their animals in July.
The BLM then impounded cows belonging to ranchers Griffin and Bulloch and moved them to a feedlot in Salina, Sevier County. They were to be sold to pay for the cost of removing them from the monument, but supporters of Griffin and Bulloch descended on the auction house to recover the cows.
The cattle were released to the ranchers' supporters after negotiations with Sevier County Attorney Don Brown. They were moved to a location in Arizona.
U.S. Attorney Paul Warner demanded the return of the cows, threatening criminal or civil action if they were not back in federal control. Ranchers' supporters remained adamant. Last week, the federal government impounded the additional 25 or 26 cattle, plus calves.
The latest development is that both sides are talking, trying to work out an agreement on control of the cattle pending resolution of the larger issues.
"They've been trying to work things out," said Shawna Cox, who has been a contact for Bulloch.
George S. Young, a Salt Lake attorney representing the ranchers, said talks have been going on involving the U.S. attorney's office, the Garfield County attorney and law enforcement officers. "I think they're working out a resolution for the Griffins' cattle, and I would hope a similar resolution could be worked out for Mary's cattle," he said.
An agreement about Griffin's cattle may be completed Wednesday, he said. "I think it's a concept that might be agreeable and workable for Mary's cattle, but that remains to be seen."
The situation is changing "hour by hour," he said. He expects a resolution to be reached sometime Wednesday at least about where the Griffin cattle should be held.
The agreement involves holding the cattle jointly pending appeal. Ranchers would appeal the removal order through the U.S. Interior Department administrative law process, and if that failed, through the federal courts.
"It (the agreement) would defuse the issue of who's got the cattle in the meantime, which, frankly, I don't think should be that big an issue," Young said.
The main issue is the right to use the range in the new national monument, he said. He expects the ranchers to prevail ultimately on that argument. "The issue shouldn't be who's got 20 cattle on any given day."
Warner "has said since Day One the choices were to bring the cattle back and avoid any legal consequences for taking them from the auction, or, if you don't bring them back, face civil and criminal remedies that we intend to pursue," said Rydalch.
Although Warner has said all that he has to say, she said, he is "a reasonable man. If someone were to call today with a resolution to the problem, we would listen."
The discussion now focuses on what the U.S. attorney's office terms vigilantism in the taking of cattle from the Salina auction house. Vigilantism can't be allowed to stand, she added.
"It's not about the cows anymore. It's about the rule of law."
Griffin said his motivation in agreeing to an arrangement about holding the cattle pending final settlement involve "some public safety concerns."
He has good friends, not all of them ranchers, who are upset about the dispute, he said. "It has actually brought the different factions together. They want to support me," Griffin said.
"Some people feel like we should go take the cattle (those impounded last week), some people say, 'Make sure you have a legal leg to stand on,' which is what I want to do."I would hate to think that some of my friends were physically hurt or have a lawsuit brought against them."