National Park Service Tries to Restrict Rancher's Grazing Rights

July 7, 2008 - 8:21 PM

(Editor's Note: The following is the 63rd of 100 stories regarding government regulation from the bookShattered Dreams, written by the National Center for Public Policy Research. CNSNews.com will publish an additional story each day.)

Tim Mantle owns a ranch, complete with grazing rights, near Hells Canyon, Colo. Mantle's father homesteaded the property with federally guaranteed grazing rights in 1919.

Congress designated the area surrounding the ranch as part of the Dinosaur National Monument in 1960. In 1961, the monument's park superintendent made a promise: "The grazing of domestic stock will be administered in a fair and unbiased manner." Despite this promise, the National Park Service (NPS) has manipulated regulations regarding Mantle's land use in an attempt to compel Mantle, in his view, to become a "willing seller."

One NPS regulation prohibited anyone except family members from using the road to the Mantle Ranch. According to Mantle, at one point, a former park superintendent even forbade family members from using the road, saying that they instead could use a helicopter.

NPS officials have tried to get the Mantles to violate their grazing permit by creating situations in which violations could easily occur. For example, the NPS has claimed there were pastures and fences that did not exist, hoping to prove that cattle were trespassing on federal land not included in Mantle's grazing allotment.

According to Mantle, NPS employees also released antelope on the Mantle ranch in an attempt to prove that he had too many animals grazing on his allotment. If the trespass or overgrazing charges had been proven, the NPS could have taken away his grazing permit. Without it, Mantle's ranch would lose value.

In 1994, the Mantles filed suit against the NPS for "denial of due process; temporary taking [through grazing and access restrictions]; and violation of the Administrative Procedures Act" and spent $400,000 and four years in U.S. District Court in Colorado. In November 1996, Judge John Kane, Jr., found that NPS officials had "unlawfully removed [a] spring box and pipes leading from it," which Mantle had set up to divert water for his cattle. According to the judge, "evidence and inspection [of the Mantle ranch]... reveals Mantle's historic access to water sources." Judge Kane further stated: "Unless remedied, [the government's removal of the spring box and pipes] will cause irreparable harm" to Mantle's historic grazing rights.

In November 1997, Judge Kane further ruled that "if the intent of Congress is to restore [Dinosaur National Monument] and the adjacent properties belonging to Mantle...it must do so by budgeting the necessary funds to condemn such properties, rather than taking the property rights by a process of regulatory whittling." The next month, a settlement agreement was drawn up that required both sides to develop a grazing Allotment Management Plan (AMP). Until this plan could be developed, Mantle was allowed to graze a specific number of cattle on a certain amount of land. The agreement also gave the Mantle ranch access to maintain its water systems based on its historical use of certain springs. Mantle resumed grazing under the conditions of the settlement.

However, the NPS never negotiated an AMP as agreed in the settlement, and in 2001, the new park superintendent refused to sign another permit based on the stocking levels agreed to in the settlement. After many delays in the permit process, Mantle finally obtained a permit in April 2002. Although the Mantles continue to graze their cattle, NPS restrictions still afflict them. For example, Mantle is now prohibited from shooting a firearm on his own land.

Sources: CNSNews, Tim Mantle

Copyright 2003, National Center for Public Policy Research