Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service

Project Prologue

Book Cliffs Conservation Initiative

The Book Cliffs Conservation Initiative (BCCI) started in 1990 as collaboration between the BLM, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF). The goal of the project was to create an area that showcased multiple use management while rehabilitating riparian areas that had been damaged by over grazing, and rehabilitating the wildlife population in the Book Cliffs area, specifically increasing the local elk heard from 2,000 to 7,500. The total area involved, including private lands, was approximately 450,000 acres.

Within the targeted area there were four privately held ranches and their participation in the program was crucial to its success. The UDWR and TNC purchased the Graham Ranch which was 3,720 acres and had grazing preferences on 100,397 acres of federal and state land. The RMEF purchased the Cripple Cowboy ranch in 1994 to further consolidate the grazing rights in the region. A third ranch in the region that was for sale, was purchased by Oscar S. Wyatt to continue using as a cattle ranching operation. The fourth ranch in the area was owned by Bert DeLambert who indicated that while he did not want to sell his ranch, he was more than willing to work with all interested parties in achieving the goals of the initiative.

The process was moving along quiet smoothly and quickly until Wyatt filed a lawsuit claiming that the actions taken by the involved parties were illegal. In his suit he charged that the ultimate goal was not to restore the area, but to turn it into a game preserve with almost wilderness like characteristics. The lawsuit put the progress of the initiative on hold for a while until the case was eventually dismissed by Judge Dee Benson saying that Wyatt’s lawyers needed “to get beyond speculation and stealth and conspiracy theory.”

Even though the lawsuit was dismissed it opened the door for a considerable amount of local opposition to be raised. Before the lawsuit was filed there had not been any major objections to the initiative, though afterwards local residents and groups became quite vocally opposed to the initiative. Ultimately Wyatt never agreed to participate in the initiative, though the other 3 private ranches in the region were all participants in the project. The goals of the initiative have been put into place and the region has been managed as the project intended, with the exception of the Wyatt owned ranch and grazing permits.

Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service