The Great Old Broads for Wilderness meet the good old boys of Garfield County this week in a showdown of sorts over use of public lands inside the nation's newest federal preserve.

"We're generally older women who feel strongly about preserving wilderness and actually do something about it," said Liz Thomas, director of the environmental activism group based in Boulder, Colo.The organization's middle-age to elderly 15-member board Sunday began a weeklong series of walks across thousands of arid acres in the southern Utah monument, scouting for evidence that rangelands are overgrazed by cattle.

"If what we see is death and destruction, we'll be prepared to document it," Thomas said.

Greg Christensen, the Bureau of Land Management's area manager in Escalante, said the group is unlikely to find any such evidence, however.

"It's a matter of opinion and perception," he added, noting that environmentalists have long criticized the agency for allowing too much grazing while ranchers insist the BLM is far too restrictive.

The event is only the latest chapter in a wider dispute, but Great Old Broads members say they hope to curtail local ranching on BLM lands - the Escalante monument in particular - through their efforts, even though group president Susan Tixlier said a total ban is not the goal.

"There are without a doubt some wilderness areas where a well-managed herd of cows and a good (grazing) allotment management plan are compatible," she said. "But . . . there are existing allotments only a crazy person would think are appropriate."

Thomas said Great Old Broads is especially worried about certain riparian areas in Grand Staircase-Escalante, where grazing has occurred historically and is supposed to be part of its future management scheme. Members of Great Old Broads, however, say they will formally sign up with the BLM as "interested parties" on dozens of grazing allotments in the preserve and on its fringes.

The strategy requires the agency to notify group members of any grazing-related activity in the Escalante region and has already been tried - with some success - by Great Old Broads member Ginger Harmon.

The Ketchum, Idaho, resident has taken up temporary quarters in Escalante this year to keep an eye on the BLM's King Bench allotment about 12 miles south of Boulder, where grazing leaseholder Kelly Roundy has been cited recently for violating the terms of his lease.

Harmon said an associate of hers photographed Roundy illegally driving through the area in an off-road vehicle, but Roundy disputes the allegation. He will appear before a federal magistrate in St. George on Thursday.

Roundy said the case is one example of a federal agency run amuck.

"The BLM just kind of does whatever they want. . . . It's not American, I'll tell you that," Roundy said.

He said his family has held the King's Bench lease since 1979 and finds itself under growing criticism, although he said his operation is environmentally sound and compatible with other land uses.

Harmon, a canyons enthusiast who has hiked in the area for years, said her objective "is to make the BLM do its job."

"They're my land stewards," she said.

Roundy said the government has an obligation to honor longtime grazing leases in the area. He added that if grazing is stopped, ranchers should be fairly compensated.

Roundy has 483 head of cattle on the King's Bench allotment, and he estimates the market worth of each at between $300 or $400, putting his lease value at between $145,000 and $193,000.

Great Old Broads was formed in Cedar City as a nonprofit enterprise in 1989, predating many of Utah's current environmental efforts. It has since relocated to Colorado, where it addresses environmental issues in a number of states.

Thomas said although Great Old Broads started as a "kind of facetious movement," it takes its role seriously now and counts about 1,300 members.

She said membership is limited lightheartedly, mostly by age and gender.

"You have to be a woman over 45, or willing to say you are," Thomas said. "Men can be members if they bring a Jello mold and clean up afterwards."