Tucson Citizen

Deal ends cattle grazing at Great Basin National Park

December 17, 1999 (p. 14C)

(Associated Press) Reno, Nev. - Cattle will no longer graze in the meadows of Great Basin National Park, because the grazing permits of three ranchers have been bought out.

"It's good for the park, good for the ranchers and certainly good for the land and visitors who will come to Great Basin," said Mike Fork after the deal was finalized yesterday. Fork is Nevada representative for the Conservation Fund, a nonprofit group that helped orchestrate the complex arrangement.

Great Basin National Park, 370 miles east of Reno near the Utah line, was created in 1986. The grazing permits predated the park's existence. In establishing the park, Congress said the permits would remain valid in perpetuity.

But Dean Baker, a rancher who relinquished his permits, said livestock, tourists and the Park Service's agenda don't mix.

"It wasn't working," Baker said. "It became obvious that it was no longer a possibility to graze on the park with the conflict between people and cattle and the attitude of the Park Service."

The agreement concludes a process that began in 1992 and that derailed once before being rescued by the Conservation Fund.

"They were good people to work with," Baker said. "Without the Conservation Fund, I don't think it ever would have happened."

Under the deal, Baker and two other ranchers - David Eldridge in Nevada and the Owen Gonder family in Utah - will share $220,000 raised through donations from nonprofit groups and others, Fork said. In return, the ranchers gave up grazing permits for 101,000 acres within the park boundaries and in the adjacent Mount Moriah Wilderness.

Park superintendent Becky Mills said the Park Service's goals for the land differed from those of ranchers, although she praised their stewardship.

"Many generations of families have grazed their cattle for over a hundred years in the South Snake Range, " she said. "They kept the land in good shape."

Without cattle roaming around, the Park Service can focus on preserving the park's native and unique ecosystems, from its desert lowlands to 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, said Mills.

The park also boasts stands of bristlecone pine, the oldest trees species on Earth, abundant wildlife, the Lehman Caves, and the only glacier in the Great Basin, a vast area that stretches from eastern California to the Wasatch Range in Utah.

"This agreement is good for wildlife in the park and now, instead of having to share the scenery with grazing cattle, hikers and campers will have thousands of acres to enjoy undisturbed," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who assisted in the effort.