Road Warrior

Ranch owner's feud with feds has been dragging on for 10 years

That could have been the end of the story, but it wasn't.

Joe Feller dashed off a letter to Henri Bisson, an assistant director of the BLM, protesting the appeal board's decisions allowing roads. In April, he followed with a letter to BLM acting director Tom Fry signed by representatives of more than 100 environmental organizations. Barnes was stopped from moving ahead with construction.

"Finally somebody started paying attention and saying, "What the hell are we doing here?' Which is something the state office never did," Feller says.

Barnes appealed the initial decisions, too, saying they didn't allow him as much access to his property as he wanted. Then when the environmentalists convinced BLM to hold off, he filed a formal legal request that the agency let him proceed. BLM has until mid-June to respond.

On May 25, environmentalists filed suit in federal court seeking a permanent injunction against the roads.

And the state BLM office recently sent a letter to DEQ requesting that the unique waters designation be lifted from Sycamore Spring. The designation had been intended for the stretch downstream where the water comes back out of the ground at South Peeples Spring, the agency contended.

With the designation lifted, Barnes could reapply to use the spring as a watering hole. The BLM letter touched off another letter from the environmentalists.

Barnes is agitated.

He's thinking of expressing his resistance by building an executive retreat on his inholding to rent to visiting groups, and that would require more vehicle access than the earlier BLM decisions would allow.

"I don't like being trod upon," he says. "It makes me more resistant."

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