Are anti-grazing activists monkeywrenching gates in San Juan County?

“Some clever monkeywrenchers, however, cut fence to allow cattle to wander through campgrounds, picnic areas, and other recreation areas in order to outrage more people about the grazing of livestock on public land.” ~From Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching

by Marjorie Haun

The “Anarchist’s Library” features a document titled Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching. The guide was published in 1993 to facilitate the activities of extremist groups such as Animal Liberation Front, Earth First, and Direct Action. The document is a how-to guide, complete with illustrations, for exacting acts of domestic terror against private property owners, food producers, and business operations seeking to develop America’s vast stores of natural resources. Inspired by the father of radical environmentalist activism, Edward Abby, the monkeywrenching guide contains enlightening strategies on how to vandalize, sabotage, poison, pierce, cut, gouge, spike and booby trap everything from the seismic equipment used by extractive industries, to salt blocks used by ranchers to keep their livestock healthy.

Developed by sick minds for perverse ends, there is circumstantial evidence that hints the monkeywrenching guide continues to serve as a playbook for activists opposing mining, oil and gas development, dam construction, road construction, livestock grazing and other economic pursuits in the West and beyond. An ongoing news story about a pair of such “ecodefenders” may indicate that these tactics are being used to wreak havoc in southern Utah.

In April of 2017, Rose Chilcoat, an activist with the anti-grazing group, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and her husband Mark Franklin, were caught tampering with a corral gate on Utah’s arid Lime Ridge in an apparent attempt to keep cattle from accessing the only water source within four miles. Two years to the day of the incident, Franklin copped a plea of “no contest” to the charge of trespassing on Utah State Trust Lands with the intent to do harm to property. In copping the plea–having previously admitted to authorities that he was the one who closed the gate–Franklin avoided the felony charge of attempted wanton destruction of livestock.

Ranchers across the West have been dealing with instances of fence destruction and gate tampering since the 1970’s when radical environmentalism became a thing. From gates left open to allow cattle onto highways, to broken and cut fences which allow cows onto prohibited allotments, such incidents are part and parcel of the daily life of ranchers holding grazing permits on public lands.

The remarkable thing about the Lime Ridge incident is not that activists attempted to harm a rancher’s cattle on his private property, but that they got caught.

The following section of the monkeywrenching guide is relevant to the aforementioned case:

Cutting Fence

Fences are what tamed the West for the livestock barons. They impede the movement of Elk, Pronghorn, deer, and other wildlife, as well as that of hikers. They destroy the open-space feeling of the land and give it a cow-pasture, private property look. Fences are the key management tool in making the range available to livestock grazing. Simply cutting fence will cause great disruption to our landed gentry. Fences are expensive. Some experts estimate that 100 people cutting fence on a regular basis around the West could put public land ranchers out of business. Fence cutting is easy and relatively safe.

The best tool for fence cutting is a “fence tool.” It looks like a weird, over-grown pair of pliers and a good pair can be purchased for about $20 at most hardware stores. It can be used for hammering, twisting wire, pulling staples, and cutting wire. Most fences are constructed of barbed wire or net wire. A fencing tool will cut either with ease.

You should not just go out and cavalierly start cutting fence. Some fences protect the land. You do not want to cut a fence and allow cattle from over-grazed areas to enter an ungrazed area or one in relatively good condition. Never cut a fence separating an ungrazed National Park or National Wildlife Refuge from grazed National Forest, BLM, state, or private land. Do not cut fences in riparian areas (public lands agencies are actually trying, in some areas — against great rancher opposition in some cases, but with rancher support in others — to get cattle out of some sensitive riparian areas). It is dangerous to cut fence along highways. People die every year in the West from hitting cows in “open range” areas with their cars. Leave highway fences up. Think about the likely results before you cut. Some clever monkeywrenchers, however, cut fence to allow cattle to wander through campgrounds, picnic areas, and other recreation areas in order to outrage more people about the grazing of livestock on public land.

Cutting an old, rusty, run-down fence is often not worth the effort, as the fence is probably obsolete or due to be rebuilt soon anyway. Give priority to new, expensive-looking fences.

When you have selected suitable fencing to cut, pick your time carefully. Avoid hunting season. There are more people out in the field then (hunters and game wardens, of course, and ranchers to make sure that cows aren’t shot). If possible, pick a season when the cattle or sheep have been moved to another pasture. A quarter moon night is good. So is bad weather. (Beware of lightning — barbed wire fences can attract it.) Some experienced fence cutters believe it is best to monkeywrench during daylight because it looks less suspicious, and because one can do a much quicker and more thorough job, with less risk of injury. When cutting fence, it is important to look like a cowboy; most folks other than ranchers have no idea what happens on a ranch and will simply think you’re doing ranch work.

Walk along your carefully chosen fence in one direction, cutting as you go. Do not double back. You might find someone looking for you. Check behind yourself frequently. You are, after all, leaving a perfect trail. Binoculars are useful for watching your back trail. Beforehand you should select several possible escape routes. Look carefully ahead of you as well as behind you, as you cut. Once in a while stop suddenly, be dead silent, and listen carefully. When you leave your fencing work, do not leave a trail that someone can follow back to your home, camp, or vehicle. Do not loiter. Do your work and leave.

You can cut a mile or more of fence in an hour once you get moving. Snip each strand of wire between posts but do not damage the posts. They will be needed for reconstruction of the fence later and will prevent other trees from being cut for fence posts. Give special attention to corner posts since they are integral to supporting the entire line of fence. All wire should be cut on support and corner posts, gates, cattle guards, and the like. Instead of cutting between each post, you also can randomly cut wire along a greater length of fence and probably still necessitate the complete restringing of the fence. Some experienced fence cutters cut strands only between every second or third post, but also vary their pattern. They believe this will cost more time and money in repair.

Caution: Barbed wire is usually strung under tension, so be careful when cutting it. When cutting, stand well to the side of the wire and cut strands next to the post. Do not hold on to the wire as previous editions of Ecodefense suggested. Fortunately, many public-lands ranchers are too lazy to keep their fences in good repair, so the wire is apt to be loose.

An experienced barbed wire fence repair person suggests that to do the most expensive damage to a fence, one should cut out one-foot sections between posts. Throw the cut section away from the fence where it can’t be easily found. To repair this kind of cutting requires three people and many pieces of wire. If enough one-foot sections are taken out, it will require the complete restringing of the fence.

Replacing cut fence is costly for the rancher. Two-point barbed wire costs about $80 for a quarter-mile spool. Cutting a mile of four-strand fence necessitates the replacement of $1280 of wire. Of course, the fence must be so cut up that it is not feasible to repair it by splicing cut ends back together.

Fence cutting is hard on your hands: Wear gloves to protect your hands and to avoid leaving fingerprints.

The ecodefender terror brigades are clever and thorough, no doubt. And out on the range where cows can be half-wild and the elements brutal, it’s hard to discern why a gate or fence might be cut or pulled down, or closed as in the case of Franklin and Chilcoat.

Thus, for the ecoterrorists, gate tampering is the perfect crime. Make the ranchers look negligent, make the cows look like they are unmanageable and destructive, send federal land management bureaucrats after the ranchers for infractions on their grazing permits, and do it all with nary an iota of evidence that anyone is at fault but the ranchers, the cows, and the bureaucrats who are so brazen as to allow dirty bovines on the virgin lands.

It’s easy to blame employees of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service who are charged with ensuring that grazing permit holders comply with rules and regulations. But the real enemy is activists who use their monkeywrenching skills to throw the federal grazing system into chaos, put the cattle in harm’s way, and drive the ranchers into ruin.

In a recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) disclosure from the U.S. Forest Service in southern Utah, Free Range Report uncovered an email thread (August 20-September 18, 2013) between a Forest Service employee who appears to be managing cattle grazing permits, and a local ranch hand. In the emails, they discuss instances of cows trespassing into non-grazing areas near the twin mesas which are the namesake for the now-defunct Bears Ears National Monument. The thread contains evidence that humans have been intentionally opening and pulling down gates to, as the ecodefender guide book states, “allow cattle to wander through campgrounds, picnic areas, and other recreation areas in order to outrage more people about the grazing of livestock on public land.

You will also see in this conversation the diligence employed by ranchers to ensure that their cattle are not outside of their permitted areas, as well as the effort exerted in finding cattle that have been lost due to what are likely the subversive tactics of anti-grazing activists.

Names are withheld since the parties are not at fault in the instances detailed. Excerpts from the thread follow:

August 20, 2018 from Ranch Hand to USFS Employee (Emphasis added)

Hi [USFS Employee], I have been taking care of the cows, and just wanted to update you on what we have done and are doing. We have had a struggle keeping the cows out of the Kigila pasture. [name of rancher who owns cows] They have been walking the cattle guard and then going down the draw to the spring that is there by the old Cabin, on the Babylon pasture. The fence is down all through the draw, so they just walk over it. We have been up there moving the cows out of Kigila twice a week for the past month. They literally come back in as fast as we move them out. Many have gone down and scattered out all over the Babylon pasture. We have been pretty slack about getting them out of Babylon. The Cattle Guard has recently been cleaned out, and this will help keep the cows where they are suppose to be. We will start ASAP getting the cows out of Babylon and getting them into Pea vine. There are also some of [rancher’s name] cows there, so we will work with him. Thank you for your patients [sic]. Also, I just wanted to make you aware, that the past three weekends, someone has opened the gate between Arch Canyon Pasture and East Ears Pasture. They are pulling the gate all the way back. This past week end we could see foot tracks where they had pulled the gate open. We had a bunch of cows get into East Ears, and some went into South Long point. I think we got most of those cows, but we may have missed a few. We hope to have everything in Pea Vine in the next week or so.

August 20, 11:15 a.m., USFS Employee to Ranch Hand

Hi [ranch hand]. Thanks for the response. Yes, I do know there was a problem with the cattle guard and I am glad they got it cleaned out. I knew that it would be hard to keep the cows out of Babylon while they were in Arch Canyon, but I didn’t think it would be as much of an issue when the cows are in the Peavine pasture so that is why I was surprised cuz I thought they had been moved to there. Please let me know if there are thing you think we can do about the gates being left open. Did you say it was a gate by a cattle guard? Maybe we can put a camera on it to catch the person. We had to do that a few years ago on a gate that kept being left open right by a cattle guard on Twin Springs.

September 16, 12:53 p.m., USFS Employee to Ranch Hand

There were about 10 cows of more spotted in Babylon on Saturday. Please move them into Bears Ears. Thanks.

September 16, 3:48 p.m., Ranch Hand to USFS Employee

If can find them I will, do you have any idea where they were seen? We are missing about 25 cows and have been riding like crazy to find them. We were on the mountain Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We found two cows on the very end of Kigela point. But that was it in three days of riding. Saturday evening I drove my four wheeler all over milk ranch, butts point, little notch and steam boat. I did not see any cows or fresh tracks. I also heard a report of some cows in Rogers. I am headed there in the morning. Any info you can get on where they saw those cows would be great. Hope all is well with you and your family.

September 16, 3:51 p.m., USFS Employee to Ranch Hand

He said he saw them right off the road at Babylon pasture, about where the road is that goes out to Steamboat point.

September 17, 2013 10: 05 a.m., Ranch Hand to USFS Employee

Hi [USFS employee], just wanted to let you know that I rode Babylon today. I did find the cows that have been there, but they were [rancher’s name] cows. I called him after I got home and he will send his cowboy over to get them. He had 9 cows and 1 bull on Steam Boat, and then I found two of his cows on Milk Ranch point. I did not find any of [another rancher] cows on Babylon. We will be out there again, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and will continue to make sure our cows are where they are suppose to be.

The following email was sent to the USFS Employee from a rancher in 2011, and also cites instances of open and broken gates due to human interference, and at times, wildlife.

[USFS Employee]
Thanks for letting me know. I’m not sure when [range conservationist] saw cows there, but we have been gathering cows since Wednesday. I don’t know what the guard station fence is like, but apparently the cattle guard on the Kigalia Point road silted in pretty bad during the last storms and there was evidence that some cows had crossed it, but I don’t know if that is the only problem. We have worked really hard on fences and we try to keep our cows where they are supposed to be since it costs us a lot of extra time and money to try and find cows that are not where they are supposed to be, but we are also constantly faced with the challenges of gates being left open, elk knocking fences down (which we try and fix quickly when we find that), and sometimes cows just go and do what they want to no matter what, and some years are better than others.

Self-proclaimed ecodefenders, who are in fact criminals whose moral code instructs them to torment law-abiding people with all manner of mayhem, live in an ideologically pure universe, where any activity that alters “nature” is evil. They, of course, exempt themselves from both the rigors and the consequences of their deranged dogma. Unfortunately for ranchers and the rest of us, there is little that can convince the true-believing ecodefender that feeding the world’s people and developing its natural resources is not a great evil. The truth is that their impossibly absurd insistence that “the lands and waters” remain forever unchanged by feeding the world’s people and developing its natural resources, is the real evil.

Free Range Report

Thank you for reading our latest report, but before you go…

Our loyalty is to the truth and to YOU, our readers!
We respect your reading experience, and have refrained from putting up a paywall and obnoxious advertisements, which means that we get by on small donations from people like you. We’re not asking for much, but any amount that you can give goes a long way to securing a better future for the people who make America great.


For as little as $1 you can support Free Range Report, and it takes only a moment.

About the author