Grazing limits feed tension in Nevada
Ranchers Decry Federal Clampdown on Land for Cows, Echoing Other Dust-Ups
BATTLE MOUNTAIN, Nev.—Rancher Pete Tomera slowed his pickup truck on a dusty mountain road one day last week and swept an arm toward tall green grass blowing in the wind: “Man, look at all the feed a cow could eat,” he said.
Since last summer, Mr. Tomera’s 1,800 cows have been banished from these mountains in northern Nevada, part of a clampdown by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management against grazing on federal lands during an extended drought. An additional 500 head of cattle owned by two other ranching families have been ordered off a roughly 350,000-acre grazing allotment managed by the BLM in the Shoshone Range about 10 miles to the south of this town. The animals have been put out to private pastures or fed hay at far greater cost than on the public land.
Early this week, dozens of supporters of the ranchers staged demonstrations to protest grazing policies that they say are overly restrictive, especially in light of recent rains that have turned many hillsides green. “If you put a mouse in a corner, he will fight for his life,” said Mr. Tomera, 68 years old, whose family, like many here, has ranched in the area since the 1800s. “That’s what we’re doing.”
The dust-up comes after a confrontation in southern Nevada between rancher Cliven Bundy and the BLM over his nonpayment of grazing fees to the federal government. The conflicts echo rising frustrations across the West over federal control of the region’s vast mountains, deserts and forests. In San Juan County, Utah, a group of ATV enthusiasts led by a county commissioner this month rode into a canyon the BLM had closed to vehicles in 2007, despite warnings from the federal agency against trespassing.
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 about 40 years ago, when agencies like the BLM started having to manage lands for endangered species and green groups began pushing to rein in livestock grazing, said Gregg Cawley, a professor of political science at the University of Wyoming.
The Western Watersheds Project group has lobbied the BLM to remove cattle from public lands, saying they cause damage to streams and other sensitive areas—assertions ranchers deny. Utah, Wyoming and other states have passed measures in recent years seeking state control of federal lands.
Federal officials say they aren’t overly swayed by environmental groups. “We get pressure from a lot of places,” said Amy Lueders, the BLM’s director for Nevada, whose agency manages 68% of the state’s land area.
In Battle Mountain, which sits in high desert 220 miles east of Reno, 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 Ms. Lueders, who said even with recent rains, the land may need more time to recover.
Last year, ranchers Dan and Eddyann Filippini said they were told to remove their 900 cows from a grazing allotment near Battle Mountain. An additional 200 have been kept off the allotment where the Tomeras graze. The family pays to lease private pastures for 500 cows, and it buys hay to feed the rest, as the allotment remains closed.
“It’s devastating,” said Mrs. Filippini, 58, adding that the extra costs have forced the family to make cutbacks, such as forgoing replacement of old trucks.
Friday, the Tomeras, Filippinis and rancher Shawn Mariluch signed a temporary agreement that allows 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 can be ordered off the land.
Ranchers said they had no choice but to sign, or face rising expenses to keep their cows penned up and fed.
The ranchers worry the limits are “unattainable,” and they are pushing for the removal of Doug Furtado, the BLM district manager, and protest the BLM’s position.
“We kicked and fought and screamed, but that’s not something they would budge on,” said Mr. Tomera’s wife, Lynn.
Mr. 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.
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