Cattlemen lament designation of new national monuments

TUCSON, Ariz. - Cattle ranching has been as much a part of the West's identity as the geological wonders that make up its landscape.

But some ranchers are increasingly beginning to wonder if the Clinton administration's zeal to preserve one part, the land, may eventually force out the other.

''Our ancestors settled these arid lands,'' Lynn Cornwell, president-elect of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said Monday in Tucson. ''We've carved out a living here, and we think that we're entitled to have a seat at the table.''

The administration has created three new monuments in Arizona alone this year and another may be in the state's future.

Cattlemen are discussing the implications of that during a statewide meeting of the Arizona Cattlemen's Association this week in Tucson and will be exploring possible responses.

Industry officials said it's too early to tell whether ranchers will end up losing grazing rights on any lands within the newly designated national monuments.

They do believe monument designation on federal grazing lands, and uncertainty over their future use, will cloud their ability to continue using their grazing leases as collateral for obtaining operating loans.

''I don't know that we oppose these national monuments,'' said Jed Flake, a Snowflake rancher who heads the Arizona Cattlemen's Association. ''Probably the main thing we oppose is the way they've been done.''

President Clinton used the federal Antiquities Act to proclaim the monuments. ''We believe that the way it has been done is basically a direct violation of federal law,'' Flake said.

Critics of Clinton's spate of monument designations, without public input, contend he is seeking to secure a legacy as an environmentalist before leaving office.

They also contend that the Antiquities Act was designed to protect specific rare, important geological, historical or natural objects or features, rather than broad-ranging masses of land.

Local and state officials as well as many Western congressmen also insist that the federal government is locking up far too much land.

In Arizona, Clinton has proclaimed the million-acre Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument on the Shivwitz plateau, the 72,500-acre Agua Fria National Monument near Phoenix and the nearly 129,000-acre Ironwood Forest National Monument northwest of Tucson.

About 10 days ago, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt told northern Arizona business leaders that he would recommend Clinton designate a 280,000-acre national monument centered on Paria Canyon in the Arizona Strip in the far northwest corner of the state.

Flake, 59, a fourth-generation rancher, runs cattle with three brothers, including one serving in the Arizona Legislature. Their 100,000-acre operation includes 7,500 acres of family owned land and a mix of state, federal and private grazing leases.

''This act of designating something without any local input ties up or completely changes the use and the control of these lands,'' and affects private property rights in a lot of ways, Flake said.

Arizona Gov. Jane Hull, state legislators and members of the congressional delegation have registered their opposition, ''mainly because they were not involved,'' Flake said.

He said local and state officials and congressmen all through the West ''haven't seemed to discourage or slow down Mr. Babbitt and Mr. Clinton on their agenda. It looks like we don't have any recourse at this point, unless it went through litigation.''

A panel of lawyers will discuss the issue Wednesday during the Arizona convention, and it also will be explored next week at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association convention in Denver.

Cornwell, 48, a rancher from Glasgow, Mont., said ranchers are looking foward to November's election. ''What we're looking forward to is a change in the administration.''


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment