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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- An environmental group has asked a federal court to cancel 149 grazing permits on 1.5 million acres in northern Utah.
The action filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City Wednesday by the Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project challenges grazing permits on Bureau of Land Management property in Tooele, Rich and Box Elder counties.
"The science is in, and it is clear: Grazing in arid places such as Utah takes a heavy environmental toll," said John Carter, an ecologist for the group in Utah. "Cows destroy streams, grasses and soils. This destruction harms all manner of wildlife."
Western Watersheds started fighting the northern Utah grazing permits administratively two years ago, saying that the BLM did too little to assess the damage from grazing before awarding the 10-year allotments. The Interior Board of Land Appeals rejected that claim.
The group pursued its claim in a federal court suit last spring that asked that the BLM be required to do an environmental impact statement on the impact of grazing on the 1.5 million acres.
The ranchers and their attorney had not seen the latest legal brief, but they denied that the BLM had made a bad decision in allowing the grazing.
"Well-managed livestock grazing is good for the land," said Ken Brown, one of about 75 affected ranchers.
He said the $40,000 in legal fees the ranchers have spent on the case so far would have been better spent on range management.
Attorney Karen Budd Falen of Cheyenne, Wyo., who represents the ranchers, said her clients will fight the attack on their grazing permits and will ask that the ranchers be allowed to continue using the allotments while the issue remains in dispute.
"The claim that livestock grazing is turning northern Utah into the face of the moon is just not true," she said.
BLM spokesman Don Banks said suits like Western Watershed's prevent agency staff from being on the ground managing range because they are forced to shuffle lawsuit paperwork at their desks.
"And that's very troubling," Banks said.
Western Watersheds contends grazing has resulted in soil erosion, habitat destruction and degraded water quality in streams.
The group said, for example, that the BLM did not measure impacts on 208 Box Elder County springs even though about 124 springs and 16 perennial streams are in danger because of grazing.
Western Watersheds said the BLM should consider reducing the number of livestock grazed and excluding livestock from sensitive or unsuitable areas.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)