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Lawsuit Targets Livestock Grazing and Trailing in Capitol Reef National Park

For immediate release

August 23, 2019

Media contact:

John Persell, Western Watersheds Project, (503) 896-6472


SAINT GEORGE, Utah – A conservation group today sued the National Park Service for authorizing damaging and illegal livestock grazing and trailing to continue in Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park. The lawsuit contends that the grazing authorizations are inconsistent with the Park Service legal mandate to protect and preserve nature, and that issuing the permits violates congressional intent to phase out livestock use in Capitol Reef National Park.

“When people think of America’s National Parks, they think of the highly-safeguarded natural wonders that this designation is supposed to protect,” said John Persell, staff attorney for Western Watersheds Project. “But at Capitol Reef, the agency is protecting livestock ranchers instead of rare plant and animal species like Winkler cactus and Mexican spotted owl.”

The lawsuit challenges the Park Service’s plan to allow special use permits for livestock grazing and trailing (herding cattle from one area to another, which causes intensive damage) in sensitive habitats without the requisite environmental impact statement. The suit seeks redress for livestock impacts on rare plants and wildlife protected under the Endangered Species Act, which the agency never analyzed adequately. Additionally, the complaint challenges the illegal issuance of permits to unauthorized individuals, which is not allowed under the legislative provisions to phase out livestock grazing in the Park. In creating Capitol Reef N.P., Congress allowed only heirs and direct descendants of original livestock operators to continue livestock grazing in the Park as part of a phase-out program; trailing is even more restrictive, limited by law to traditional routes cattlemen used to trail livestock across the Park at the time of its creation.

“Congress was very specific about discontinuing livestock use of Capitol Reef by ‘grandfathering’ in only certain permittees in specific places so commercial operations in the Park would be phased out over time,” said Persell. “But the Park Service is now issuing permits outside of that direction, and in new places, in direct violation of the law and the public trust.”

A copy of the complaint is online here.

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