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Battle at Battle Mountain

Livestock Industry Opinions
May 23, 2014

Public lands issues are coming to a head all over the country

It seems that public land ranching is getting more attention this past week, with two items that demonstrate the pitfalls of having the U.S. Government as a business partner.


I think this is more fallout from the disregard or lack of understanding of what public land ranchers provide and do for the environmental, economic and social good of western federal lands. At this point it would be difficult to do any long-term planning on some of these ranches that utilize the federal forage.

The Nevada ranching community is rising up against the BLM again and this time it’s for the right reasons. A BLM district manager has refused to allow several ranchers to turnout on their summer range, claiming that the drought has taken its toll and the land is in need of a long rest, even though this high desert country has had good snowpack and has had ample rain to produce an abundance of forage. We’ve been told the grass is over 20 inches tall.

Many of these ranch families have found themselves in a desperate situation to maintain their cow herds, especially the Tomera Ranch, which has not been able to find other pasture arrangements. All these ranch families have worked with BLM to their wit’s end to compromise in order to use this healthy range. They have turned to the Elko County commissioners and the state government for help, which they did receive, and now they have turned to the court of public opinion to change what has been described as a tyrannical BLM district office.

Last week the Tomara and Filippini families and Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber hosted a range tour to demonstrate to the public that there is ample grass to turn their cows out on. Over 200 folks turned out for the tour. The area has been quite dry the past few years and these ranchers had already agreed to trim their AUMs with the BLM, but late winter and spring rains had blessed the area and the grass has come on quite strong. Another event was planned for Memorial Day weekend.

The BLM District Manager Doug Furtado is at the center of the issue. He apparently made the decision to close the allotment last winter prior to the spring moisture and has not revisited the decision, and he is the sole decision maker in this case.

There have been plenty of innuendos that Furtado hasn’t been friendly to the ranching community. Furtado is accused of being deceitful and attempting to drive a political agenda using flawed science and intimidation.

These ranchers have the support of local and state governments and are circulating a petition to have Furtado removed from his post as district manager because he’s not to be trusted.

Also, last week the Obama Administration designated another half-million acres in southern New Mexico as a new monument under the Antiquities Act. The Oregon Mountains east of Las Cruces is Obama’s largest of 11 other monument designations. There are roughly 9,000 cattle that graze the area and this designation covers 68 percent of the public grazing in the county.

These states that have large blocks of BLM or Forest Service lands are slowly being chiseled away from livestock production. It also demonstrates that the Obama Administration’s view is that the federal government can do just about anything they like with federal lands in the various states, regardless of economic or social ramifications. The White House even claims that ranchers support the monument designation in New Mexico, which I would have a hard time believing, but, can you believe anything this administration says at this point?

The public land livestock community needs to raise the volume on these federal land issues. Cliven Bundy got the issue on the national stage and it’s a good time to keep the story at as high a level as possible. These ranching operations that have private land and water rights mixed in with federal grazing land should have a larger role in the management of those federal lands, and I’m afraid it’s a place for the state governments to embrace.

It is frustrating to try to work with these agencies and then have them pull the rug out from under your operation. It always appears that if you give up some AUMs you never get them all back. If the livestock industry keeps losing AUMs, at this rate there may not be a western ranching industry. It is definitely a smaller industry than it was 30 years ago. — PETE CROW

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