By David Bowser
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Cattlemen and the U.S. government are face-to-face over cattle impounded by the Bureau of Land Management.
The federal agency impounded about 30 head of cattle in October that Bureau of Land Management officials say were trespassing on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Kanab rancher Mary Bullock and about a dozen other ranchers from Kane County, Utah, Arizona and Nevada, went to Salina, Utah, and got the cattle from Bureau of Land Management corrals where they were to be auctioned.
"I went up there and took my cattle home," says Mary Bullock.
BLM officials began rounding up Bullock's cattle after monument manager Kate Cannon says she determined Bullock had failed to comply with repeated orders to remove the animals from the monument lands.
Using horses and a helicopter, government wranglers last month rounded up 29 head of cattle from the monument, claiming three ranchers, Quinn Griffith, Jeffrey Johnson and Mary Bullock, had not met deadlines for removing their cows under conditions of their grazing permits.
According to the Deseret News, the cattle were to be sold to cover the cost of the roundup.
BLM documents indicate the government charged Bullock $540 for a trespassing fee and $14,557 for the cost of removing and impounding her 26 cows. Griffin was charged $873 for the costs associated with one cow, and Johnson was charged $878 for the cost of one cow and calf.
Auction officials in Salina had refused to sell the animals, and the government was preparing to move them to another auction when about eight ranchers, flanked by their attorneys and local law enforcement officers, took the cattle.
Bullock and the other ranchers went to the auction pens the morning of Nov. 7, and told Sevier County Sheriff Phil Barney they wanted the cattle.
The sheriff, who also raises cattle, initially resisted but relented that afternoon, after deciding, he says, the cattlemen intended to take the cattle and did not care how they got them.
Sheriff Barney says he did not want violence over the cattle, so he released them to the cattlemen after consulting with the county attorney.
"It was pretty Western," Bullock says. "Police lined up on one side and us cowboys were on the other side."
As the sheriff, his deputies and Utah Highway Patrol troopers looked on, Bullock and the ranchers loaded the impounded cattle into four cattle trucks at Producers Auction in Salina.
The auction's owner had earlier refused to sell the animals, saying the BLM had failed to submit proper documentation of ownership.
Earlier, Paul Warner, U.S. Attorney for Utah, offered to send U.S. Marshals to Salina to guard the cattle, but Sheriff Barney rejected the offer.
Warner says he will not prosecute the sheriff, but he may charge the cattlemen with stealing the cattle.
Warner, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune, is negotiating with the ranchers in an effort to have the cattle returned to the Bureau of Land Management pending a legal settlement.
The U.S. attorney says if an agreement can't be reached in a few days, he will refer the matter to the FBI.
Kane County Sheriff Lamont Smith says his deputies interviewed Bullock and the ranchers the next day.
Sheriff Smith says if federal agents attempt to take back the animals from the ranchers, he will make sure the agents have proper documentation.
An attorney for the ranchers says one proposal that has been suggested to defuse the situation is to return the cattle to a central holding pen that would be guarded by federal and local law enforcement officers.
The cattlemen's attorney says they took the cattle for safekeeping until the legal issues of the BLM's impoundment could be resolved.
Bullock maintains that the impoundment was illegal because the BLM did not follow proper administrative procedures and failed to honor an agreement with monument managers that gave her until Nov. 1 to remove the cattle.
Much of the monument has been closed to grazing since July because of drouth conditions.
The question is whether the BLM is changing its policy toward grazing since the national monument was designated in 1996.
The cattlemen argue that the BLM is not honoring grazing permits that go back generations. Radical environmentalists say the agency is enforcing federal grazing rules the ranchers have ignored for decades.
Even if the BLM get the cattle, they may have trouble selling them. The Salt Lake City Tribune reports that two Utah auction firms contacted by the BLM have refused to cooperate.
Local officials say the BLM violated state law when it moved the cattle from Kane County to Sevier County without a state-mandated brand inspection.
(Given that fact, it would appear that someone — or several someones — at BLM are subject to prosecution, fines and/or time behind bars. If the cattle are to be re-impounded, perhaps they should be, too. That should pick up the pace of negotiations considerably. But then, maybe the federals consider themselves immune to state laws; their boss and his underlings have behaved that way for eight years. — Ed.)
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