Some ranchers say a plan to manage livestock on the Dinosaur National Monument will lead to the extinction of grazing rights there.
But members of the National Park Service staff say they want ranchers to participate in the development of the proposal and that a no-grazing policy is not imminent.
The staff's goal is to have a livestock management plan in place by 2003. The issue was discussed at the Moffat County commissioners' meeting Monday. Commissioners said they want to add their thoughts to the matter.
The plan affects 10 ranches and involves 80,000 acres of grazing land at the monument about 40 percent of the monument's total area.
At Monday's meeting, the commissioners invited representatives from Dinosaur National Monument and ranchers with grazing rights at the park to hear a presentation by Carol McCoy Brown, the chief of Research and Resource Management at Dinosaur National Monument.
Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson said the two groups were invited to ease the tensions between them.
"If we're ever going to bridge this divide, the time is now," he said. "The best way to start this is to make sure everyone involved is sitting in the room at the same time."
The commissioners said they want to use "cooperating agencies status" to guarantee the county's involvement in the development of the management plan.
By applying for "cooperating agencies status" with the park service, the commissioners are elevated to a partnership level with the park service so they can have input on the development of the plan.
Instead of just providing comments after a plan has been developed, the commissioners will work with the park service from the beginning, Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said.
"Our concern is that the constituency involved in this process needs to know and be involved with what is being decided," Raftopoulos said. "(Ranchers) have concerns about changes that might be made and we understand their concerns."
Brown said the monument is establishing a plan by order of the National Park Service.
"New management policies issued in 2001 said we have to manage grazing and establish grazing guidelines," she said. "Right now we're very early in the process and it has not yet been determined what we're going to do."
She said the monument is trying to take all factors into account and she encouraged permit holders to become involved in the process.
"That's why we're doing this as one big analysis so we can look at the big picture," she said. "This is the time for the permittees to get real active. I can't stress that enough."
Chas Cartwright, superintendent of Dinosaur National Monument, said the goal of the monument is to develop a grazing plan not eliminate grazing.
"There's some perception out there that the purpose of this document is to eliminate grazing," Cartwright said.
"But the purpose is to manage grazing.
"You will not see a 'no grazing' permit brought forward in this process."
He said open communication would be sustained through group and private meetings with permit holders.
"It's not like we're going to show them something and say 'what do you think?'" he said. "Throughout the process we're going to meet with them as a group and individually."
Tim Mantle, who said he is battling the park right now to keep his grazing rights, was not convinced of the park's good intentions.
"They keep telling us they're developing a plan and want us to come to all of their meetings," Mantle said. "Eventually you get tired of going to the meetings. They're just trying to wear you out."
Rancher Dean Chew shared Mantle's skepticism.
"The long-range goal is to eliminate ranching," Chew said. "There's no doubt about it."
Cartwright maintained that ranchers were not being driven off monument land.
"We will be working with all permittees in the livestock plan," he said. "I don't anticipate any major changes but we're going to have to work through it."
Rancher Joe Hacking said he wasn't concerned.
"I've never had a problem with the park service," he said. "I've always had a good relationship with them. I don't see where it's going to be a problem for us or where it's going to change that much. I think it will be all right."