While Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy was grabbing national headlines with an armed confrontation with agents from the Bureau of Land Management, dozens of other ranchers across Nevada have been quietly wrestling with decisions by BLM agents that are jeopardizing their very livelihoods.
The BLM has been demanding reductions in the number of cattle allowed to graze on public range land, often using rationale that seem arbitrary, capricious and arguably without sound scientific support, as reported in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.
Eureka area rancher Kevin Borba, for example, said he called the Ely and Battle Mountain offices of the BLM to make sure what his allotments would be before he purchased his ranch in 2012. He said he was assured the AUMs (animal units per month) would remain the same — 415 head on one allotment and about 500 on another.
With those assurances, the lifelong cattleman from California purchased his 330,000-acre ranch and named it the Borba Land and Cattle Co.
But as he was getting ready to turn out his 415 head on his Little Smokey Valley-Duckwater allotment, he was told by the BLM he could graze only 140.
He has hired a lawyer and is appealing to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Hearing and Appeals.
He also hired a range specialist from Winnemucca who looked at his vegetation and declared he could easily graze more than 415 head. Borba said the range specialist knew far more about the plants and their nutrition value than his then-assigned range con. (Some ranchers joke that “con” is short for conservationist or con man.)
“My number is 415 head of cattle. Now, if the feeding isn’t there, I don’t want skinny cows, I’ll run less cattle,” Borba said. “But if I sign that paper and reduce it to 140, and then next year comes around, ‘You know your permit is for 140 but I think you could run 20.’ They’ll never give us the numbers back. … I’ll run 140, but I just want to keep the 415 that the permit says.”
A notice inviting ranchers to a meeting this week in Austin, Nev., said, “As ranchers we have faced and survived severe weather and fires and other challenges provided by Mother Nature. Every day we face these challenges and meet them head on. Now, we face an increasing kind of challenge which we are not having much success with. This problem and increasing threat is the heavy handed policies and bureaucracy of BLM and certain BLM employees that seem intent on putting ranches out of business.”