At a meeting of ranchers in Austin, Nev., a couple of weeks ago, someone was circulating a petition demanding that Doug Furtado, the head of the Battle Mountain district of the Bureau of Land Management be fired.
The reason for that animus is becoming clearer by the day.
At the meeting several ranchers reported that Furtado was demanding that all cattle should be off all riparian grazing lands by June 30. (Riparian lands are simply those near a water source such as a stream or spring.) Never mind the fact that almost 100 percent of the water rights, which are granted by the state and not the federal government whether on federal-controlled land or not, belong to the ranchers. Nor pay any heed to the fact federal Judge Robert Jones in the Wayne Hage case ruled that ranchers have a right to graze their cattle within a half-mile radius of their rightful water sources.
In today’s Elko Daily Free Press, Rex Steninger, whose family used to own the paper, reports that Furtado has ordered one rancher to not turn out any cattle at all this year on his public grazing range.
According to the newspaper account, long-time rancher Pete Tomera, who holds the majority of the grazing rights on the Argenta Allotment, met with a range conservationist at the Battle Mountain office for three hours recently to work out how many and where he could graze cattle this year. He already agreed to cut 8,000 AUMs (animal units per month) last year and another 11,000 this year, reduction of more than 1,000 head of cattle. His AUMs were cut 50 percent in the 1960s.
Tomera told Steninger he could understand not being allowed to graze if there was not sufficient forage, but that the past three months had brought moisture and drought relief to Mount Lewis, where he planned to graze cattle this summer.
But Furtado told Steninger, “They see green grass out there and all they see is forage for grazing. It is not forage, it is recovery.”
After the three-hour meeting Tomera and his wife, Lynn, had at the BLM office in Battle Mountain Tomera agreed to the 11,000 AUM reduction. He said the range conservationist agreed with the plan. He drove home and found a phone message from the BLM that it was closing the allotment completely.
“I have worked hard my entire life to get along with the BLM and I have never been cited for trespass,” he was quoted as saying. “But then one man with some sort of vendetta comes in and, with a snap of his fingers, he makes a decision that can ruin the lives of my family. It’s terrible.”
How many businesses can afford to simply stop making money for a year?
Furtado said the range conservationist did not have the authority to make an agreement. “Staff cannot make management decisions. They don’t have the authority. They just make recommendations to management,” he said.
Tomera plans to hire his own range expert to counter BLM’s claims. Attorney and Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber is representing him. But a legal fight against the deathless, well-funded BLM is a generations-long endeavor. All the original Hage family members are dead, yet the court fight has not ended.
Tomera said he has 1,800 cows and calves on his private land but he will run out of feed by the end of the month.
Tomera is inviting people to come and look at the allotment for themselves at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 17. Nevada’s congressional representatives are being invited along with state representatives and county commissioners from Lander, Elko, Eureka, Humboldt and White Pine counties.
Ironically, the Elko paper today also carries an invitation from the BLM to participate in “a review aimed at creating a more dynamic and durable way of developing the Resource Management Plans that guide its efforts.”
“As I’ve met with elected leaders and citizens from across the West on BLM issues, I’ve consistently heard two things: first, the BLM needs to more effectively address landscape-level management challenges; and second, planning takes too long.” BLM Director Neil Kornze is quoted as saying. “We’re listening to you and we are stepping forward to improve the way we work so we can make our process more flexible in planning across landscapes, more dynamic and responsive to change and less time consuming.”
The rest of the notice is pure, indecipherable bureaucratic jargon.
What doubly disturbing about the BLM kicking cattle of the range is that the grass will continue to grow and in the hot summer months will become kindling for wildfire that devastate the very creatures the BLM claims to protect — sage grouse, desert tortoises, deer, elk, rabbits, foxes, etc. — roughly three critters for every acre burned.
“With all the rain we’ve had the last three months, those mountains will be a tinderbox if the grass is not grazed off,” Gerber was quoted as saying. “Think of all the sage grouse, deer and other animals that will be killed if that mountain burns.” Gerber is the “father” of Smoked Bear, the mascot for preventing wildfire by properly grazing off the fuel.