About 70 riders on horseback blocked traffic in Nevada’s capital city’s main highway to deliver petitions against the BLM over grazing reductions on federal land to Governor Brian Sandoval. The rally ended a weeklong, 300-mile trek orchestrated by Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber that began on Memorial Day.
Gerber said the horseback protest, dubbed the “Grass March,” was modeled after Gandhi’s “Salt March” across India to protest British control of the salt supply in 1930, which he likened to BLM control of Nevada’s public lands.
“Across the board I would like to see the land transferred to the state of Nevada,” said Gerber, whose family began ranching in eastern Nevada in the mid-1800s. “Then people closer to the issue could make the decisions.”
Several dozen ranchers from around northern Nevada met with Sandoval in Carson City, who assured them he would take their concerns over grazing allotments in Battle Mountain to the highest officials in the federal agency.
“This is what makes Nevada great,” Sandoval said to the crowd packed in his reception area. “The fact that we’re all one family…that you feel you can come to Carson City and present and air your concerns.”
“I’m very proud of the efforts you’ve made,” he added, “I’m very humbled and honored that you would do it and very respectful of all of you being here today.”
The federal government owns more than half of the land in the 11 Western states plus Alaska, and for more than a century, ranchers have turned their cattle loose on many of those public lands in return for a grazing fee. But that arrangement has become more complicated since the rise of the environmental movement, when agencies like the BLM started having to manage lands for endangered species and green groups began pushing to rein in livestock grazing.
Federal officials claim they aren’t overly swayed by environmental groups, though the Western Watersheds Project group has recently lobbied the BLM to remove cattle from public lands, saying they cause damage to streams and other sensitive areas.
“We get pressure from a lot of places,” said Amy Lueders, the BLM’s director for Nevada, whose agency manages 71-percent of the state’s land area.
In Battle Mountain, the troubles for ranchers started when the local BLM office began implementing a statewide drought-management plan in 2013.
“The concern is, you want to make sure it isn’t grazed to bare dirt,” said Lueders.
Gerber disputes Lueders’ claim, “Without notice and without hearing, (they’re) reaching out and hurting the ranchers by not allowing them to turn out their cattle on the grass which is 18 inches to two feet tall.”
Meanwhile, Nevada ranchers signed a temporary agreement allowing them to graze their cattle on BLM lands, with strict limits in place on the amount of grass the cows can consume. If those requirements aren’t met, the cattle will be ordered off the land.
Ranchers worry the limits are “unattainable,” and they are pushing for the removal of Doug Furtado, the BLM district manager.
“The problem we have in the BLM district battle mountain is clearly Doug Furtado,” says Assemblyman Ira Hansen, “and that’s why there’s been a concerted effort to remove him from the position.
“The BLM will respond to the political will of the State of Nevada represented through the Governor,” added Hansen.
Furtado said he has tried to work with the ranchers and blamed “outside forces” for agitating the situation. He said he expected to sign a final agreement allowing the renewed grazing for 2014 within two weeks.
Pershing County rancher Mike Gottschalk summed it up best: “First they came to save the spotted owl, and we did not speak out and thousands of timber jobs were lost. Then they came to save the tortoise, and we did not speak out and all the Clark County ranchers were destroyed. Then they came to save the horses, and we did not speak out and our ranges are now overrun with them. Now they are coming to save the sage hen, and remove all the ranchers, recreationists and sportsmen. It is time we all stand up for our rights and speak out, or there soon will be no one left to speak for us.”