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The U.S. Soil Conservation Service and Bureau of Land Management have drifted apart over chaining they once both supported to reduce erosion on the slopes of southern Utah's Muddy Creek drainage.

Three years ago, the sister federal agencies agreed that chaining - use of a thick chain dragged by bulldozers to uproot vegetation - was the best way to keep the site near Kanab from becoming desert.What were grasslands a century ago were turned into pinion and juniper forests by overgrazing and decades of fire suppression. The agencies hope to revert the drainage to its earlier state by ripping up the trees and planting grass.

Proponents saw that as the best way to keep runoff from periodic cloudbursts from carving deep gullies, carrying off soils and underlying salts and depositing them in the Colorado River.

But the pinion and juniper remain. Protests from environmental groups like the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance prompted soil conservation officials to expand their environmental assessment of the project into a full environmental impact statement.

That has meant detailed archaeological and soil surveys, reviews of potential effects on threatened or endangered species, and studies of rock samples, channel erosion and sediments.

When the EIS is completed later this year, it will explore four alternatives - do nothing; treat the entire watershed by chaining and other methods; treat all land except that proposed for wilderness by the Utah Wilderness Coalition; and treat only private and state lands.

However, the soil conservation agency no longer is being joined by the BLM in the study. Gordon Staker, the BLM's Cedar City District manager, said his office does not have the personnel or money to devote to the more extensive review.

Staker also said his agency is in the process of preparing its own resource-management and land-use plan that will include an examination of erosion-control measures in the Muddy Creek-Orderville Watershed.

Still, soil conservation geologist Bob Rasely suggests that "politics and the push by (environmentalists) against chaining" caused BLM to withdraw - and SUWA spokesman Ken Rait also believes his group made a difference.

"BLM backed out because it is beginning to recognize that chaining is an economically and technologically indefensible range tool. And I believe public pressure hastened this education process," he said.

Rasely sees BLM's decision to act independently as a mistakes, because that agency administers nearly half of the 10,000 acres in the watershed.

"With BLM not participating, you don't just lose their half, you lose two-thirds of the benefits," he said. "It makes chaining less effective in certain zones, and there's no sense doing some work in others. We don't want to throw tax dollars at nothing."

Rasely also blames Rait's group for delaying efforts to stem erosion, and insists that chaining can be properly implemented.

Rait finds the argument illogical.

"We beat it up with cows and now they want to beat it up with bulldozers. We are not convinced bulldozers and chains will resolve erosion problems. We've reviewed the literature and the scientific jury is still out on it," he said.