Monumental dispute

Ranch family, National Park Service clash over grazing rights

A Northwest Colorado ranching family says it is being run off of land it can rightfully use for cattle grazing at Dinosaur National Monument.

A monument official, however, says the land has been overgrazed in recent years but maintains a compromise between the family and the National Park Service can be reached.

"They've denied our historic grazing rights that go back to 1934," said Tim Mantle, whose family is involved in the grazing dispute with the government. "They're refusing to issue our grazing permit."

The Mantles said Dinosaur National Monument Superintendent Chas Cartwright ignored a 1997 United States Court settlement agreement, Mantle Ranches, Inc. vs. the National Park Service.

The settlement dictated the stock levels the family could have on its grazing allotment within the monument.

The Mantle family said it submitted a permit application in compliance with the court's settlement agreement on Dec. 19, 2001.

Cartwright refused to sign the permit and returned the grazing fees five days after the expiration of the previous year's permit and offered a temporary permit until a solution was reached, Mantle said.

The temporary permit offered lower stock levels.

"We had an agreement that described how the permit should be issued," Mantle said. "What he's doing is cutting our numbers from 180 head to 70 head."

Cartwright said the reason the Mantle's permit was not granted was the conditions in the actual permit did not match the conditions outlined in the permit application.

The permit application allowed 72 head of cattle, while the permit and letter submitted by the Mantles called for 180 head of cattle.

The Mantles said based on the 1997 United States Court settlement, the monument cannot cut the numbers to which the Mantles are allowed, but Cartwright said the park does have that right.

"The National Park Service did not get a management plan done in the time it was supposed to," Cartwright said. "It probably won't get it done until the end of the year. Because it is not yet complete, the park service needs to manage grazing according to its own policies."

Cartwright said the range has felt the effects of increased grazing and drought conditions in recent years.

"My conclusion is what we've been permitting is more than the range can sustain," he said.

Mantle said the current dispute is one of many efforts the National Park Service has taken in the past 30 years to drive the family off the range.

But Cartwright disagrees.

"We are still trying to compromise," he said. "It doesn't do any good to drive them off of the range."

Cartwright, who was recently appointed superintendent of the monument, said he is aware of the ongoing feud between the family and park.

"Both the Park Service and the Mantles have gotten in a war over this situation," he said. "Any sane person would say that neither side has been successful."

He said a solution could be reached.

"We continue to be open to work something out," Cartwright said. "We're not trying to shut them down."

Tim Mantle's brother, Lonnie Mantle, said he did get a telephone call from Cartwright saying he wanted to work on a compromise with the family.

Mantle said the family would listen but, in the meantime, they are pursuing other income possibilities with the land.

"We're in the process of finishing up subdivision rights," he said. "It's a unique piece of property."

Recently the Moffat County commissioners approved a subdivision for the Mantle property within the monument and the family is offering the lots for sale.

"Their right to subdivide the property is no different than yours or mine," said Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton. "As long as they follow the process, they have a right do with the property as they determine."

By subdividing the land, the Mantles have increased the value of desirable real estate, he said.

"It's an absolute piece of heaven sitting off of the Yampa River," Hampton said.

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