Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Obama to Create New National Monuments?

A short list (below) describing the Obama Administration’s potential new national monuments was leaked to the media this week. I had heard rumors that this was being considered as early as November when I had a private conversation with a top BLM administrator, so I was not surprised by the “announcement.”

The areas under consideration for new national monument status subject to public support and other considerations include the following lands, Owyhee Canyons, Montana Plains, Otero Mesa, San Rafael Swell, Northern Sonoran Desert, Cascades Siskiyou, Vermillion Basin, Lesser Prairie Chicken, Berrysessa-Snow Mountain, Heart of the Great Basin, Bodie Hills, Modoc Plateau, Cedar Mesa, and San Juan Islands.

At one time or another I have visited nearly all the proposed national monuments and each has its special values that make them worthy of protection. Let’s hope the Obama administration follows through on designation of these areas, and even adds a few of the runner up proposals like Bristol Bay, Alaska and Wyoming’s Red Desert.

The Proposed National Monuments

Otero Mesa in New Mexico: A 1.2 million acre grasslands inhabited by prairie dogs, pronghorn, and other wildlife.

San Rafael Swell, Utah: A wild 40x75 mile mix of canyons, gorges, arches, and buttes that includes 5 wilderness study areas, this place has long been considered for national park status. I’ve wandered some of the canyons on the fringes of this area including Little Wildhorse Canyon, an area with narrow slot canyons.

Owyhee Canyonlands in Oregon and Nevada: The adjacent Idaho portions of this canyon complex was given some partial protection by legislation last year, but Nevada and Oregon sections of this area remain unprotected. I worked the BLM searching for rare plants in this extremely remote part of the West, and often went days without seeing another soul. The remote canyons are home to redband trout and California bighorn sheep.

Montana Northern Plains: This would protect the Bitter Creek WSA and other BLM lands which lies just south of the Canadian border and immediately adjacent to Grasslands National Park in Canada. Back in the 1980s, I published a proposal for Montana wildlands that included a 3.5 million acre national park that would have included the BLM lands along the Missouri Breaks, Charles M. Refuge Wildlife Refuge, and the Bitter Creek area, among other public holdings. In essence, this proposal would make that dream a reality by creating a natural connected corridor between the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, Missouri Breaks National Monument, and private conservation efforts north of the Missouri River.

Northwest Sonoran Desert, Arizona. The Sonoran Desert, dominated by its signature plant, the saguaro cactus, it is the most diverse of all North American deserts. On-going and escalating ORV abuse, livestock grazing, and other threats, including extended drought perhaps due to global climate change, threatens this unique ecosystem. This proposal would encompass desert lands northwest of Phoenix.

Cascade Siskiyou National Monument expansion, California/Oregon. In 2000 the Cascades Siskiyou National Monument was established in Oregon, but a portion of the area lies in California. This expansion south would include fine examples of oak woodlands and the unique plant assemblages in this region which features vegetation representative of the Great Basin, Klamath Mountains and Cascade Range. There is also discussion of including an expanded boundary in Oregon as well to include the proposed Siskiyou Crest to the west of Ashland. The Siskiyou Crest includes portions of the PCT, the Red Buttes Wilderness, and the Kangeroo Roadless areas, one of the largest unprotected roadless areas in northern California. This is an area I’ve explored on numerous occasions over the years, and can attest to its unique beauty and quality.

Vermillion Basin, Colorado. The Vermillion Basin lies along the Colorado-Wyoming border and bisected by Vermillion Creek, a tributary of the Green River. Part of the area was studied by the BLM for wilderness designation. It is another lonely corner of the West with rugged canyons and sage covered slopes containing important sage grouse habitat. I’ve hiked a few parts of the basin, and did not encounter another person. But this solitude is likely to change in the future since the area is considered a high priority for on-going oil and gas exploration.

Lesser Prairie Chicken, New Mexico: A 58,000 acre area that is home to bluestem grasslands that contain some of the best lesser prairie chicken habitat in the United States.

Berrysessa-Snow Mountain, California: This 500,000 acre area would include portions of California’s northern Coast Ranges that are the headwaters of Cache Creek, a BLM wilderness area, home to many wintering bald eagles and a growing herd of Tule Elk as well as one of the most diverse botanical communities in the United States. I’ve had the pleasure of hiking Cache Creek and hiking to the summit of Snow Mountain—both areas have outstanding wildlands value, but I was most impressed with the oak woodlands on lower slopes and fir forests at higher elevations.

Heart of the Great Basin, Nevada: This monument would include the Toiyabe, Monitor, and Toquima Ranges. All three ranges have some protected status granted by wilderness designation. This was one of my favorite parts of Nevada which I explored in preparing my Nevada Mountain Ranges book. It contains substantial archeological sites, huge aspen groves, and 12,000 foot peaks.

Bodie Hills, California. Have you ever visited Bodie Ghostown State Park north of Mono Lake, than you have been in the proposed Bodie Hills National Monument. This land of sweeping sage covered hills, home to Mono Basin Sage Grouse, an endangered species. Connecting the Bodie Hills with Mono Lake Scenic Area, plus adjacent recently designated wilderness in the headwaters of the Owen River would make a large interconnected wildlands of national significance.

Modoc Plateau, California. The 3 million acre proposed Modoc Plateau National Monument is another one of those out of the way places in the West where few venture, and is not likely to be on anyone’s to “must see before I die list”. The proposal includes the Skedaddle Mountains on the Nevada-California border, one of the largest unprotected wilderness study areas in the state. Immediately west of the Black Rock Desert complex in northern Nevada, this area, along with the Owyhee Canyonlands, probably contains some of the least visited areas in the American West. One of the things that I’ve particularly enjoyed when I’ve camped out here, is the vast bowl of shining stars at night since this area is far from any major urban light sources.

Cedar Mesa, Utah. The Cedar Mesa area extends from the San Juan River to Elk Ridge on the north borders Grand Gulch on the west and Comb Wash on the east. It includes some of the best canyons in Utah like Mule, Arch, Fish and others, as well as thousands of ancient Native American dwellings and other archeological materials. I once watched cows trampling and destroying ancient walls of an Indian dwelling in Arch Canyon, and have seen plenty of damage from ORVs in Comb Wash. Hopefully national monument designation can bring more protection to this unique part of Utah’s Canyon Country.

San Juan Islands, Washington. The 172 islands and islets that make up Washington’s San Juan Islands lie in Puget Sound north and west of Seattle. The islands lie in the rainshadow the Olympic Mountains and receive some of the lowest annual precipitation on the entire West Coast north of Santa Barbara, California. I have only visited a few of the islands, but enjoy the play of land and sea. The islands and the surrounding ocean is a rich land for marine mammals like orca as well as salmon. There are only 13,389 acres are owned by federal, state or local governments in the islands, so I don’t know exactly which lands might be included in the monument. Hopefully national monument status can add to these public holdings to preserve what is a truly outstanding landscape.

Other areas on short list:

Among areas on the short list which probably will not get national monument designation at this time are Wyoming’s Red Desert, Bristol Bay region and Teshekpuk Lake on the North Slope, both in Alaska. It’s a shame that these three areas are not at the top of the list.

Wyoming’s Red Desert, has been proposed as national park for decades. It includes Adobe Town Badlands, a desert elk herd, and portions of historic trails like the Oregon and Mormon trails. It is threatened by expanding oil and gas development. (Perhaps the reason it is not on the list is due to legislation passed when the Tetons were given protected status that prohibited any new national monuments in Wyoming.)

The Bristol Bay is area that is under threat. The Bay is home to the most famous and largest salmon fisheries in North America, and a proposed gold mine near the headwaters of one of the area rivers could pose a threat to many of these runs.

Finally, Teshekpuk Lake is a well known breeding area for waterfowl located along the Arctic Coast to the west of Prudhoe Bay. Oil development is planned for this area as well.

Land Acquisition and Consolidation

Other parts of the leaked proposal discuss funding for land trades and targeted land acquisition from willing sellers in several important areas to consulate management. For instance, within the Missouri Breaks National Monument there are approximately 80,000 acres of private lands which the administration believes could be purchased for approximately $24 million. Another area targeted for land acquisition is the Upper Green River Valley of Wyoming where almost 400,000 checker boarded state and private acres are located that could be purchased or exchanged. A third area for consolidation is the John Day River in Oregon and the south slope of the Pioneer Mountains in Idaho near Craters of the Moon National Monument.

What are National Monuments?

National Monuments are similar to national parks in many ways, and raise the profile of an area. Unlike National Parks which must be designated by Congressional legislation, and are only managed by the National Park Service, national monuments can be created by Presidential proclamation under the 1906 Antiquities’ Act. Though most national monuments are under National Park Service administration, five other federal agencies currently manage some of our national monuments. For instance, the Missouri Breaks National Monument in Montana is managed by the BLM and Mount St. Helens Volcano National Monument is managed by the Forest Service.

The Act was first used by Theodore Roosevelt to create Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming in 1906. Roosevelt subsequently expanded upon this first conservation act by designating the Grand Canyon NM, Olympic NM, National Bridges NM, and Pinnacles NM in California, among 18 national monuments he established during his presidency. Many subsequent Presidents have designated new national monuments, including George W. Bush who created five national monuments, though four were off in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where there are no voters and no controversy. Many national monuments are “upgraded” to national park status eventually. For instance, Grand Teton National Park, Death Valley National Park, Katmai National Park were all originally national monuments.

Locals Typically Oppose National Monuments

We will, no doubt, hear some the predictable rhetoric about a “government” take over—even though in nearly every instance, the designation is merely changing management emphasis on lands already owned by the public. Historically, however, national monuments were established over the protests of local people.

For example, Teddy Roosevelt tried in vain to get Congress to protect the Grand Canyon but with no success, So Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to create a Grand Canyon National Monument over the objections of mining, logging and livestock interests as well as most of the residents of Arizona. The Arizona Congressional Delegation even stopped funding for the national monument as a protest.

Similarly, when Roosevelt established protection for old growth forests in the Olympic Mountains, local timber interests and communities were outraged. When Franklin Roosevelt established Jackson Hole National Monument in the Tetons in 1943, locals protested, and the Wyoming delegation introduced legislation to undesignated the monument.

Eventually the Jackson Hole National Monument was merged with other lands to create Grand Teton National Park. When Bill Clinton and Bruce Babbitt established Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in southern Utah in 1996, the Utah Congressional delegation and Governor were opposed.

There is a pattern to all these protest. Generally short sighted local attitudes change over time, and national monuments generally enjoy wide spread public support even within the states where public opposition was high. There are few people who live in Wyoming today, for instance, who would vote to undesignated Grand Teton National Park. And on the heavily logged Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park retains the bulk of remaining old growth forests and intact salmon streams that is now one of the prime attractions of the region.

Will the Obama Administration go forward with this proposal and ensure a legacy in conservation history? I certainly hope so. If history and the passage of time is any indication, future generations of Americans will thank him for these designations just as millions of Americans now enjoy and are grateful for past President’s use of the Antiquities Act to enshrine many of America’s most iconic landscapes from the Grand Tetons in Wyoming to Glacier Bay in Alaska to Joshua Tree National Park.

George Wuerthner has published 35 books covering many areas and topics including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy, California Wilderness Areas, Oregon Wilderness Areas, Nevada Mountain Ranges, Alaska Mountain Ranges, Idaho Mountain Ranges, and Thrillcraft--The Environmental Impacts of Motorized Recreation.

In the West, ‘Monument’ Is a Fighting Word

In much of the nation, “monument” is an innocuous word, conjuring up images of historical figures cast in bronze or road-side plaques few stop to read.

In the West, though, it’s a fighting word, bound up for years with simmering resentments against the federal government and presidential powers. The feeling dates to the days when, with the stroke of a pen, Theodore Roosevelt declared lands he wished to protect as national monuments under the American Antiquities Act.

A new monument fight erupted this week when Representative Rob Bishop, Republican of Utah, said he had uncovered a “secret” Interior Department memorandum suggesting that the federal government was considering national monument designation for 14 huge blocks of land in nine states from Montana to New Mexico.

A spokeswoman for the Department of the Interior, Kendra Barkoff, said the list was not secret at all, but simply a “very, very, very preliminary,” internal working document resulting from a brainstorming session that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a Democrat and former senator from Colorado, had requested about the lands in the West.

“No decisions have been made about which areas, if any, might merit more serious review and consideration,” Ms. Barkoff said in a statement.

But the word “secret,” especially when applied to the possible doings of far-away federal bureaucrats, is right up there with “monument” in its ability to unleash vitriol among Western conservatives. In 1996, President Bill Clinton created the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah with a surprise announcement that still resonates across the region as a symbol of government powers, or what critics call the abuse of those powers.

The new Interior Department memorandum, people in both parties said, has reopened a wound from those days that never quite healed.

“Given the lingering frustration felt by many Utahns, following the 1996 ‘stroke of the pen’ monument designation, it is totally inappropriate for this federal agency to even have preliminary discussions without involving the stakeholders on the ground,” said Representative Jim Matheson, Democrat of Utah, a state that had two of the possible new monuments on the list, the San Rafael Swell and Cedar Mesa.

In Montana, an area of unplowed grassland called the Northern Prairie was listed on the Interior Department memorandum, discussed as a possible home for a new national bison range. But the state’s representative at large, Denny Rehberg, a Republican, said in a statement, “The Antiquities Act was never intended as an end-run around the will of the people nor as a land-grab device for East Coast politicians.”

Ms. Barkoff at the Interior Department said in an interview that Mr. Salazar, as Colorado’s attorney general, United States senator and secretary of the interior, had a history of seeking consensus, and that any discussion of monument designation would be open to public and Congressional involvement.

A spokesman for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, a conservation group, said the appearance of secrecy in monument talks had melded with ideological opposition to the Obama administration — widespread in a deeply Republican part of the country.

“I don’t think it’s as much about the specifics of the land issues as it is pure ideological concerns,” said the group’s executive director, Scott Groene. “There’s already been a great fury going on in this state, and it’s hard to imagine that this really changes any of that.”

The fury is nothing new. In 1969, for example, the town of Boulder, Utah, passed a resolution changing its name to Johnson’s Folly, and predicted the town’s demise after President Lyndon B. Johnson added thousands of acres to Arches and Capitol Reef National Monuments, which were both later designated national parks by Congress.

The town later reverted to its original name, and on its Web site the Boulder Business Group now proudly calls the town the “gateway to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.”

Representative Bishop, who was teaching history and government in a high school in northern Utah when that monument was created in 1996, also held out the possibility that cooler heads and calmer discussions could prevail on land protection in the West. The prerequisite, he said, is transparency and genuine dialogue. If Westerners think there is a foregone conclusion, hostility to more national monuments will be unavoidable.

“If they do things in an open and transparent way and involve everyone, then there’s no need for yelling and screaming,” Mr. Bishop said. “Do it the right way, and we can work it out.”

Utah monuments

We Utahns can relax, for now. The feds say they aren't sneaking around behind our backs, plotting a land grab of epic proportions.

However, the Interior Department is considering two areas in Utah as future national monuments. Since they are already mostly public lands, managed by the federal government, that's hardly a land grab. But setting aside these starkly beautiful areas as national monuments would have a huge impact on Utahns.

The two are San Rafael Swell, a nearly 3,000-square-mile dome mostly in Emery County bordered by Castle Dale, Green River, Price and Hanksville; and Cedar Mesa, a 400-square-mile area of San Juan County noted for its Native American archaeological sites. With the exception of some parcels owned by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, they are not state-owned. But they are used for grazing and are popular recreation sites.

Since a department memo listing the two Utah sites as possible monuments surfaced last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Gov. Gary Herbert have talked. Herbert says he is confident Interior won't move ahead without first laying some groundwork with locals. Salazar says he will meet with the governor's Balanced Resources Council, and the governor plans to have conversations with Salazar's top deputy and the head of the Bureau of Land Management, which now oversees the two tracts.

The president of the United States has the power under the Antiquities Act to
make such designations without an act of Congress and without asking permission of the people who live in the area. Still, we hope President Barack Obama and Salazar would not follow the example of former President Bill Clinton.

In 1996 the Clinton administration denied it was planning to establish a huge area of south-central Utah as a national monument -- right up until the president announced that 1.9 million acres of public land in Utah had been set aside as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Utah officials are still fuming over that deception and the fact Clinton sought no advice at all from them regarding the impacts to local residents. And rightly so. Besides simple courtesy, a collaborative process involving state and federal officials, local residents and county commissions would no doubt provide information that could help decide the boundaries of a national monument, the timing of the designation and other important details.

The president shouldn't take a heavy-handed approach just because he can.

Hatch calls White House to complain about monument plan

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel received an earful from Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch on Friday, one day after a leaked administration memo indicated the president was considering naming two new national monuments in the state.

Hatch's office said the senator called Emanuel to complain about the potential unilateral action and Emanuel promised to provide an official response after consulting with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

"I made very clear to him that if the Administration goes down this road, it will meet absolute outrage and opposition from across the state and from me representing Utah in the United States Senate," Hatch said in a statement.

The Interior Department has said the memo is only a first look at land that may need more federal protection. The list of 14 spots includes the San Rafael Swell and Cedar Mesa areas of southern Utah.

Every member of Utah's federal delegation, along with the governor and many state lawmakers, responded to the memo with anger, reflecting on President Bill Clinton's controversial 1996 decision to create the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The federal designation limits the uses of the land, blocking development and mineral extraction.

"Based on past experience any claim that these plans are just preliminary offers the people of Utah very little comfort," continued Hatch. "The very consideration of these designations demonstrates that Washington wants to dictate to us how our lands will be managed."


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Obama Eyes Western Land for National Monuments, Angering Some

More than a dozen pristine landscapes, wildlife habitats and scenic rivers in 11 Western states, some larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined, are under consideration by the Obama administration to become America's newest National Monuments -- a decision the administration can make unilaterally without local input or congressional approval.

More than a dozen pristine landscapes, wildlife habitats and scenic rivers in 11 Western states, some larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined, are under consideration by the Obama administration to become America's newest National Monuments -- a decision the administration can make unilaterally without local input or congressional approval.

According to internal Department of Interior documents leaked to a Utah congressman and obtained exclusively by Fox News, the mostly public lands include Arizona deserts, California mountains, Montana prairies, New Mexico forests, Washington islands and the Great Basins of Nevada and Colorado -- totaling more than 13 million acres.

Sources say President Obama is likely to choose two or three sites from the list, depending on their size, conservation value and the development threat to each one's environment.

"Many nationally significant landscapes are worthy of inclusion in the NLCS (National Landscape Conservation System)," according to the draft report stamped NOT FOR RELEASE. "The areas listed below may be good candidates for National Monument designation and the Antiquities Act."

Click here to view a list of the sites and a brief description of each one.

Presidential use of the Antiquities Act is highly controversial because the White House, with the stroke of a pen, can lock up thousands of square miles of federal lands used for timber, ranching, mining and energy development without local input or congressional approval. The Act is generally interpreted to commemorate or protect a specific historical landmark, not prohibit development or deprive local communities of jobs and tax revenues.

"Any federal action that could lead to limited access should be done in an open and public manner using extraordinary caution," said Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., upon seeing the leaked report. "The fact that this administration is already circulating internal memos to bypass Congress and the public process is troubling."

In 1996, President Clinton turned 1.3 million acres of southern Utah into the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument without telling the Arizona or Utah congressional delegation. Highly controversial at the time, the designation has withstood numerous legal challenges to the president's authority, and the national monument remains one of Clinton's boldest environmental accomplishments.

While Western politicians are still digesting the report, several properties stand out.

-- Otero Mesa, New Mexico: The area stretches over 1.2 million acres and is home to 1,000 native species. Gov. Bill Richardson has sought protection for Otero Mesa for years, but the Bush administration targeted it for oil and gas development.

-- Heart of the Great Basin, Nevada: Researchers call it a "globally unique assemblage of cultural, wildlife and historic values" that includes thousands of petroglyphs and stone artifacts dating back 12,000 years.

-- Owyhee Desert, Oregon: Called one of the most remote areas of the United States, the Owyhee is home to the largest herd of California bighorn sheep.

-- Bodie Hills, California: Located in the fast growing eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, Bodie contains the Golden State's best preserved ghost town. But the area is also loaded with gold, and several mining permits are pending.

-- The Modoc Plateau, California: Spanning close to 3 million acres in the northwest corner of California, the Modoc Plateau is "laden with biological and archeological treasures." Interior officials call it the second largest unprotected landscape in the state.

The list contains a number of political land mines for the president, according to a former Bush Interior Department appointee familiar with the document who asked to remain anonymous.

"Right now a number of senior officials are going over the report," he told Fox News. "When Clinton did it, most of the West was red states and he didn't have any blowback. Obama has to ask himself, if he chooses a Nevada location, will it hurt (Senator Harry) Reid's re-election. The same is true in almost every (Western) state where Democrats have made serious inroads."

The list was leaked just days after a story appeared in the New York Times outlining the administration's plans to use executive power to advance his agenda in the face of congressional opposition. "We are reviewing a list of presidential orders and directives to get the job done, across a front of issues," White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told the newspaper.

Western representatives are planning a full-fledged assault on the report when Congress returns from its break next week.

Congressman Rob Bishop, R-Ut., co-founder of the Western States Coalition and now Chair of the Congressional Western Caucus, has also seen the leaked memo.

"We are taking this seriously. The tar is warming up. The pitchforks are ready. We will do what ever we need to make sure Congress is fully informed and fully aware of this action. This process should be open and transparent and President Obama should go though Congress and do it this the right way, not by presidential fiat," said Bishop.

"Outrage. In a country as dependent on foreign oil as this one, this kind of action on public lands is simply unacceptable."

Interior Department spokesman Craig Leff told Fox News late Wednesday the leaked document "reflects some brainstorming discussions within [the Bureau of Land Management], but no decisions have been made about which areas, if any, might merit more serious review and consideration."

Friday, February 12, 2010

No change in federal grazing fee in 2010

The federal grazing fee for 2010 will be $1.35 per animal unit month (AUM) for public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management and $1.35 per head month (HM) for lands managed by the Forest Service. The 2010 fee is the same as it was in 2009.

An AUM or HM – treated as equivalent measures for fee purposes – is the occupancy and use of public lands by one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month.

The newly calculated grazing fee, determined by a congressional formula and effective on March 1, applies to nearly 18,000 grazing permits and leases administered by the BLM and more than 8,000 permits administered by the Forest Service.

The formula used for calculating the grazing fee, which was established by Congress in the 1978 Public Rangelands Improvement Act, has continued under a presidential Executive Order issued in 1986. Under that order, the grazing fee cannot fall below $1.35 per AUM, and any increase or decrease cannot exceed 25 percent of the previous year’s level.

The annually determined grazing fee is computed by using a 1966 base value of $1.23 per AUM/HM for livestock grazing on public lands in Western states. The figure is then calculated according to three factors – current private grazing land lease rates, beef cattle prices, and the cost of livestock production.

In effect, the fee rises, falls, or stays the same based on market conditions, with livestock operators paying more when conditions are better and less when conditions have declined.

The BLM manages more than 253 million surface acres. The Forest Service manages 193 million acres of Federal lands.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Environmentalists to lose land linked to preserve

An environmental group stands to lose land linked to its signature Idaho wildlife preserve because federal land managers contend they've been misled over how the site would be managed.

Western Watersheds Project oversees three BLM grazing allotments totaling about 7,000 acres, or 11 square miles, connected to its Greenfire Preserve near the East Fork of the Salmon River.

Valley Sun LLC, a company headed by Gordon Younger, a Seattle environmentalist and a financial supporter of Western Watersheds, has a permit for the allotments but doesn't graze cattle there.

BLM officials from Challis, located 280 miles north of Boise in the mountains, this month told Younger he "knowingly or willfully made false statements or representations" about his plans for the allotments. As a result, they were canceling his permit "in its entirety."

Western Watersheds Project has nine pending federal lawsuits targeting the BLM as part of its campaign to end public land grazing. Younger has become a lightning rod for his role in buying up land in the region and for going toe-to-toe with ranchers for control of traditional grazing ground.

"Valley Sun, LLC and Western Watersheds Project have provided BLM with baffling, contradictory and apparently false statements," BLM Field Manager David Rosenkrance told Younger in a Feb. 2 letter that the permit was being canceled. "I can only conclude Valley Sun, LLC never intended to purchase livestock to activate their permit."

Rosenkrance, who was out of the Challis office and didn't immediately return a call, gave Younger 15 days to protest.

In 2000, Younger bought a 432-acre ranch near Challis that became Western Watersheds Project's Greenfire Preserve.

The ranch came with permits to BLM and U.S. Forest Service grazing allotments totaling more than 50,000 acres, according to the group.

Jon Marvel, director of the Hailey-based Western Watersheds, has managed Younger's allotment near Challis under a conservation agreement for a decade. He plans to protest Rosenkrance's decision to cancel the permit, which Marvel says stems from the federal agency's support of ranching interests.

"There has been and continues to be a bias in the BLM against conservation," Marvel said, adding keeping the allotments remains a priority. "It's very important. Not having livestock on these landscapes is hugely beneficial for wildlife and fisheries."

Livestock interests accuse Younger, a Seattle packaging business owner, of forming "fake ranches" to buy land, compete for leases, squeeze livestock off prime grazing ground - and then manage it as wildlife habitat. Since 2006, Younger has been embroiled in a federal court lawsuit against Idaho that it settled late last year for $50,000, an agreement to end discrimination and a rewrite of rules governing how Idaho awards competitive grazing leases.

Ranching groups embittered by Younger's and Marvel's activities greeted the BLM's move to cancel the permit near Challis, saying federal action has been long overdue.

"He's just not playing with a level playing field," said Stan Boyd, executive director of the Idaho Woolgrower's Association. "Finally, the BLM got fed up. It's about time."