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The Range War of the 1990s

March 19, 1995

My husband and I relocated to Escalante, Utah, 3 1/2 years ago from Menlo Park and were not aware of the hotbed of controversy we had moved into ("The Great Escalante Jetport-Cowboy-Condo War," by Frank Clifford, Feb. 12). We arrived with many of the traditional city-folk opinions about the livestock and timber industries--views I now categorize as knee-jerk emotionalism. What we have learned from living here is that the ranching families in Escalante are struggling to pass the type of life that they were raised with on to their children.

Holistic resource management techniques have been found to reclaim damaged land. Cattle pass over an area, and their hoof prints and manure act as a medium for seed growth. Six months later, the area, without reseeding, will spring to life, even if it's the first time in many years. Also, the washes, or creek beds, which hikers are so fond of using as trails, would be clogged by willow if not for the cattle keeping them pruned back.

The logging practices in the Escalante area are commendable, and there's now a profound difference between a forest that is managed and one that is not. In neglected forests, the trees are spindly and unhealthy and have grown together densely.

I can't deny that we have some problems here. But those who live here and have worked to preserve the area's unique way of life should be acknowledged for their accomplishments.

Harriet Priska, secretary

Chamber of Commerce

Escalante, Utah

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Clifford could have placed more emphasis on one point: Having cattle graze on Bureau of Land Management-controlled acreage, such as that surrounding Escalante and so much of southern Utah, has repeatedly been proven to be inefficient. There's not enough forage for the cattle, which necessitates the kind of expensive additional feeding outlined in Clifford's report. The result is that the land is permanently and negatively altered.

The process of "chaining," using two bulldozers with an anchor chain strung between them to clear the land of its natural ground cover, is one activity that should have been banned decades ago. The elimination of natural ground cover inevitably leads to permanently damaging erosion. And a full-size juniper tree that took several hundred years to achieve maturity can be destroyed in an instant. Just as important, chaining destroys literally hundreds of archeological sites. There are too many such sites to be thoroughly studied or even permanently protected, but the curators of the Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding, Utah, confirm that hundreds of examples of ancient pottery have been destroyed by chaining.

Environmentalists lost the battle to keep the picturesque Burr Trail from being converted from an easily traversed dirt road into a paved highway. Local residents believed that the easier access would increase tourist revenue in the area. But if nearby Escalante and Boulder are any examples, the land alterations boosted the income of only one entity: the paving company that did the work.

Jon Asher

Lake View Terrace

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Escalante was the last place where, I was told, my artist-poet brother Everett was seen alive. He left there Nov. 30, 1934, and headed down through the Escalante River country with his two burros and his dog, Curly. Early the following year, my parents instituted searches for Everett, but he was never found. His burros turned up, half-starved, in a natural corral but with none of Everett's possessions. He may have drowned crossing the river, but then it is strange that his body was never found. Some Escalante residents I spoke to years later Speculated that cattle rustlers had killed him for his effects.

Everett has been written about in a dozen or more books, including "On Desert Trails With Everett Reuss" (Desert Magazine Press, 1940) and "Everett Reuss, a Vagabond for Beauty," first published in 1983.

A letter Everett wrote to our parents when he was 18 allowed them to become philosophical about his disappearance. "I have lived life to the full," he wrote, "left nothing undone, and kept my dreams."

Waldo Reuss

Santa Barbara

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