Grass March Cowboy Express coming to Russell County

Published on Monday, 06 October 2014 18:27

Written by David Elliott

The Grass March Cowboy Express, a group of horse riders raising awareness and bringing attention to the plight of ranchers who are, in their opinion, having their grazing rights on federal land stripped away, will be traveling through Russell County Tuesday and Wednesday.

According to their website, the Cowboy Express began their ride on September 26 in California with petitions in hand.

The riders will travel a distance of over 2800 miles to Washington, D.C.

The petitions being carried call for relief from federal agencies that they say do not listen to local community people.

Among the petitions are pleas regarding endangered species, water, wildlife, wetlands, wilderness and other alleged mismanagement failures of the federal government.

The riders are tentatively scheduled to ride into Russell Tuesday via Highway 40 from Colby and stop in Russell for the night. They will leave again Wednesday to head east.

For more information, go to or find them on Facebook.

Cowboy Express protests Utah federal lands managers

Courtesy of - Amy Joi O'Donoghue

SALT LAKE CITY — A group of horseback riders drew stares, honks and a few handshakes and high-fives along Redwood Road Thursday, hooves clattering on pavement in a protest ride of federal land management policies.

The Utah trek of the Grass March Cowboy Express hit Salt Lake City and continued east up Parleys Canyon, with Tooele County Commission Chairman Bruce Clegg and Utah Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, riding in tandem.

With them they carried a mail pouch sporting a letter demanding the resignation of a BLM field office manager who ordered grazing reductions in Battle Mountain, Nevada, and petitions from rural Utah counties citing a long list of grievances on federal wild horse management, endangered species protections and land use policies.

"It is not working," said Ivory, the sponsor of Utah's 2012 Transfer of Public Lands Act, which demands the federal government cede title to certain lands within Utah's borders.

"We have a federal government that is so over-extended and over-indebted that it is restricting the access and diminishing the health and productivity of our federal lands, and something has got to change. What we are saying is that we be given the same treatment as states east of Colorado."

A copy of Ivory's HB148, complete with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's signature, is being carried back to Washington, D.C., as well as petitions from Box Elder, Washington and Iron counties.

Related Story

Nevada county to send anti-federal message by horseback
A rural Nevada county will send a message the old-fashioned way to Washington about what it calls federal overreach on public lands: by horseback.

The coast-to-coast ride began Sept. 26 in Bodega Bay, California, and is slated to end 2,800 miles and 20 days later at the doorstep of Congress.

It is there that organizer and rider Grant Gerber said the group hopes to get BLM's Battle Mountain District Manager Doug Furtado ousted from his job for "unjustly" ordering the eviction of cattle from the range.

"In my 35 years of dealing with the BLM, I have never seen a bureaucrat behave that aggressively," said Gerber, a rancher, attorney and Elko County commissioner. "This is regulation without representation, which amounts to tyranny."

Gerber is part of the original group of ranchers that began the trek in California. Clegg got involved at the Utah border and will also ride for the duration.

"I've ridden every day," said Gerber, 72. "But the best part so far was going across the desert in the Salt Flats. It was fast."

Western states' frustration with the BLM and Forest Service has taken on a political intensity, with a coalition of states arguing that federal lands have been mismanaged and would be better off under state control.

Utah, with Ivory at the helm, has been leading the charge. The state has established a Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands — which would set direction on how those lands are managed — passed a wilderness bill that allows for the state-creation of wilderness and is crafting a legal attack against federal agencies which will be carried out by the Utah Attorney Generals' Office.



Jess Jones gets ready to ride Chief as Josh White puts another horse in the trailer at the the Jeremy Ranch exit of I-80 in Park City on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014. The riders take turns driving or riding in the Grass March Cowboy Express. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

Ranchers in the Grass March said they feel like they have been backed into a corner by the BLM.

"They're putting ranchers out of business," said Colleen Kness of Twin Falls, Idaho, sitting atop her horse, Gordon.

Kness, who makes a living working for ranchers, said the erosion of the ranching tradition has impacts the American public seldom thinks about: hardship to workers the ranchers support and higher beef costs.

"It will affect people at the supermarket," she said.

Eddy Ann Filipini is a Battle Mountain rancher riding back to Washington who said her family has felt the direct impacts of Furtado's decision.

"It's not right. The decision was not based on science. It was political," she said. "Everyone has been pretty complacent over the years over what is happening and the federal government takes a bit here, takes a bit there, and here we are, today."

Filipini said the experience of starting out in the surf in California, crossing her home state of Nevada and ambling down the streets of Salt Lake City has been almost surreal.

"I feel very privileged to be able to do this. It's been pretty emotional, actually. You get a lump in your throat when people show up to support you."

A local rally for the Grass March is being held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Utah State Fairgrounds. Cowboy poet and performing artist Waddie Mitchell will perform.

Cowboy Express/Grass March rides through Elko

Courtesy of Elko Daily Free Press - Elaine Bassier, October 1st, 2014

ELKO — A group of riders made their way down Idaho Street on Tuesday and they don't plan to stop until they reach the East Coast.

The Cowboy Express/Grass March began Friday in Bodega Bay, California, and the participants will ride coast to coast on a journey to deliver petitions to the federal government in Washington, D.C.

Lynn Tomera and Eddyann Filippini of Battle Mountain are two ranchers who were affected by a grazing closure ordered by the Bureau of Land Management. Other ranchers joined their cause and organized the countrywide march in protest of over-regulation.

“Today, the BLM and Forest Service control the grass in Nevada. ... That’s violating the inalienable rights of the citizens of Nevada,” said Grant Gerber, an Elko County commissioner who is one of the riders.

Tomera said there is a core group of about 10 or 12 riders who are traveling the entire way, and the number usually doubles when the group rides through towns where people join them.

“The people have been very supportive. I’m not well-traveled, so this is going to be an experience,” she said.

Filippini said the ride has gone well so far, and she also appreciates the support from the other riders and the people who meet them in towns as they ride through.

“There’s been some challenges,” Filippini said, adding when the group rode over the Sierra Nevada mountain range it was raining and there was traffic.

Arlo Crutcher of McDermitt has ridden with the march since its start on the coast of California. The ranches at the Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation have had to cut down the number of cattle they can graze because of federal restrictions, Gerber said.

“I figured this is a great opportunity to — with everybody else — to get answers,” Crutcher said. “ ... The decision makers in Washington ought to be here answering out questions instead of us riding to them.”

He said there have been some challenges on the ride, but he thinks of it as an everyday ranch life challenge to solve issues that come up.

After riding down Idaho Street, the riders went to Elko County Fairgrounds for a public potluck and meeting. Most of the attendees either knew the Tomera and Filippini families or are ranchers themselves.

John Collett of Elko said he grew up on cattle ranches and he supports the culture. He’s concerned that the federal government owns a great majority of the lands in Nevada.

“The ranchers have to take care of the land,” he said. “It’s what they do.”

The issues between ranchers and federal government are ongoing, he said, and he thinks it’s strange that officials with limited ranching experience make decisions that affect ranching.

“For someone to come in and tell them to quit is really pulling the rope,” Collett said.

Mary Branscomb of Lamoille said she attended the potluck because she supports the cause. Her husband, Bruce Branscomb, is a retired large animal veterinarian so they both know a lot of the families involved in the march.

“We believe in the cause. ... We think it’s great, and we hope they make it,” Mary Branscomb said.

Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, also attended to show his support.

“It’s not a bad thing to stand up for what you believe in,” he said. “That’s what they’re doing.”

Grazing Rights: Ranchers lope for land issues with grass march

The term “march” seems greatly underpowered. Horse’s hooves are pounding, fast and hard across miles – nearly 3,000 of them according to the route map – from the west side of the country to the east, where, historically, important decisions are made.

The “express” part of the Grass March Cowboy Express is certainly the picture that comes to mind considering the group plans to complete their trek – from California to Washington DC, in just 20 days, riding every inch of it horseback.

The ranchers and others loping good horses five miles at a time coast-to-coast liken their efforts to Ghandi’s “salt march” in the 1930s when the British government maintained control of the salt in the waters surrounding India.

“The British Government had a total monopoly on all salt,” one of the “Grass March” organizers, county commissioner Grant Gerber from Elko County, Nevada, said. “A citizen of India was even prevented from distilling a little salt from ocean water for his family. All salt had to be bought from the British Government. In Nevada the federal government has a monopoly on Nevada land and the grass. The government owns 87 percent of the land, but also exercises total control over much of the private land as well. The effective control of the government exceeds 92 percent of the grass in Nevada.”

Gerber explained that six ranching families were told in March of this year that they could not turn a single critter out on their Bureau of Land Management grazing allotments because of drought conditions.


While much of Nevada and the southwest has suffered extreme drought, their corner of the world – in the extreme northeast corner of the state has received rain, Gerber said.

“Everybody out here snickers when they hear that we’ve been in a drought. It was a good wet spring and we’ve been getting rain all summer,” he said.

“The grass was 18 inches to two feet high,” said Gerber who helped organize a public viewing of the grass in May to gain public support for his clients who were appealing the BLM’s 100 percent cut - preventing cattlemen from turning their cattle on summer range. Rain has arrived at the right time to grow adequate forage on the Argenta Allotment in the Fort Lewis area in northeast Nevada, and yet the BLM determined that grazing would not be allowed in 2014, he said.

The six families that graze the region were in a tough spot. They own 56 percent of the land and all of the water in the 332,000 acre area but were unable to use even their private rangeland because of the checkerboard nature of the allotment. They sold cattle and grazed winter range in an effort to maintain base cow herds.

Gerber, an attorney for one of the families, said he told them they had three options. “I said you can accept it, you can sue but with the way BLM regulations are you’ll probably lose, or you can go after them with the First Amendment and maybe, just maybe we’ll have a chance.”

After their first 70-mile “grass march” in May to garner public attention for the situation, the BLM allowed ranchers to turn cattle into pastures more than two months later than their agreements call for. But then mid-summer, drought-induced “triggers” were met, according to the BLM, and cattle were required to be removed from the rangeland at least two months early.

An official statement from the state office said, “BLM Nevada attempted to work with the individuals who graze their cows on an area of public lands known as the Argenta Allotment to develop a plan for reduced use that would correspond to the current drought conditions. These cooperative efforts were rejected which forced the Bureau of Land Management to temporarily prohibit grazing on the parts of the Argenta Allotment that had already surpassed recommended use levels.”

Deputy chief of communications for the Nevada BLM Rudy Evanson said “most ranchers” in the state have been agreeable to grazing plan adjustments due to dry conditions. “This is our third year of severe drought in Nevada. So in order for ranchers to continue ranching in the future we need to make the changes we are making today,” he said.

Discrepancies exist between the BLM’s grass monitoring findings and those of the the permittees’ private range consultant, Evanston said, but “obviously we believe that our measurements are correct and we’ve taken actions based on the observations and monitoring done by BLM field staff.” Those actions have directed permittees to remove cattle from nine of 20 use areas, which all six permittes have complied with, he said.

In a news story earlier this year, Pete Tomera, the largest permittee on the allotment, said the triggers BLM set in its agreement with ranchers – which were based on the height of vegetation – and included a minimum four inch grass height in riparian areas, were “unrealistic,” adding that the private range consultant he hired found that there was “an abundance of feed.”

Gerber and his clients believe BLM employee Doug Furtado who stopped 2014 grazing, is “ruling with an iron fist.” The group of ranchers plans to deliver petitions to their state representatives and senators when they arrive in Washington, DC, calling for Furtado’s ousting and a more common sense approach to federal land management.

Furtado, the district manager for battle mountain district, is backed by his superiors, Evanson said. “The actions that he’s taken have the full support of the state office.”

While the removal of Furtado, who designed a statewide drought management plan that hasn’t been released for public comment, is one of the group’s goals, the bigger goal is to raise awareness of federal lands grazing issues.

Ranchers are justified in their concern, Gerber said, citing the removal of cattle from the region around Cliven Bundy, who, of 51 original permittees is the only rancher still grazing that allotment. “In the late 1980s and early 1990s the BLM cancelled all of the grazing rights of 50 ranchers in the Las Vegas district. Fifty ranchers, 50 families, gone. Now they are working to cancel the rights of ranchers in Battle Mountain district and others. In Nevada the BLM and Forest Service have an absolute monopoly on the grass. I for one decided I was not going to accept it.”

Bruce Clegg, Tooele County (Utah) Commissioner and rancher said that while his cattle graze only private land, he, his wife and his son and daughter who comprise his family ranching operation, will ride from the Utah/Nevada state line all the way to Washingtong, DC. Grandkids will join them through Utah and Colorado. As a county decision-maker he is well aware of the economic, cultural and environmental concerns of eliminating livestock grazing. “It would be better for our county to get the land transferred to the state,” he said

“As a county commissioner I need to keep grazing in mind for my constituents,” he said, adding that across the west, counties and states deal with similar issues when it comes to public lands - wild horses, obscure endangered species and overgrowth when grazing is ceased, causing forest and grass fires.

Because 87 percent of Nevada’s land is federally-managed, unelected bureaucrats like Furtado wield an unbalanced amount of power over major segments of the economy and culture of the nation, he said. “People like Furtado have the ability to destroy the grazing which is bad for everything especially wildlife,” Gerber said.

“I plan to ride down the street in Washington DC, and I plan to ride up 17 west, and deliver these petitions,” said Clegg, whose great-grandfather began raising cattle when he arrived in Tooele County Utah in 1849. The family has ranched ever since.

Clegg and his family will use 20 horses throughout the ride, saving their best 12 for the latter part of the trip.

A horse in good condition might take two legs of the journey each day, but many are asked to ride for only one stretch, sometimes only three or four miles in the mountains and other treacherous terrain. After the three- to five-mile jaunt, a horse is trailered and hauled to a gathering place. Some riders immediately mount another, fresh horse, while others take wheeled transportation to the night’s camping spot and prepare for the next day’s ride.

Gerber said along the way, ranchers and others concerned with federal government overreach are asking them to hand their petitions to DC lawmakers. “These petitions are on sage grouse, the water grab by the EPA, a bunch of those kinds of things. We are inviting all counties, city governments, all organizations to put those petitions in our hands and we’ll deliver them.”

This kind of demonstration has never been done, as far as the Gerber knows. Fifty riders have already taken part in some or all of the event. By the time they finish, 100 or more will probably have saddled up for their cause, Gerber expects. Rallies are planned in many cities along the way including Cheyenne, Wyo., and Denver. Seven people will go from beginning to end. “It is an exhilarating feeling. I’m 72 years old and it’s a great experience riding across California and Nevada and going clear to Washington D.C.,” Gerber said.

Second Grass Tour Questions BLM science

Rex Steninger, courtesy of the Elko Daily Free Press,

August 20, 2014

Lander County ranchers and their range consultant conducted a second Grass Tour of the Argenta Allotment last Saturday to show those attending the areas used by the Bureau of Land Management as monitoring sites to justify the closing of summer grazing areas surrounding Mount Lewis.

Bob Schweigert of Intermountain Range Consultants in Winnemucca told the crowd of around 60 interested citizens, state and local elected officials and neighboring ranchers that the BLM had failed to follow its own protocols, skewed its data and offered information in a way to confuse the issues in its effort to remove cattle from the rangeland.

“The threshold question, before addressing the science, is that the BLM is implementing the Drought Environmental Assessment and Management Plan without ever having exposed it to an appealable Record of Decision. That’s a violation of BLM’s own policies,” Schweigert told the crowd.

“Secondly, you can’t follow the science and get to BLM’s position,” Schweigert added.

To begin with, Schweigert charged, this is not a drought year, so none of the BLM’s drought responses should apply. He explained the National Weather Service Office reported precipitation levels in Battle Mountain last spring stood at 85 percent of normal, while the Society for Range Management defines a drought as a prolonged period when precipitation is less than 75 percent of normal.

“Also, the vegetation production data collected by IRC in supports the fact that the uplands are producing within the normal range,” Schweigert said.

Secondly, the BLM has not abided by its obligations agreed to in the grazing licenses signed last May by the ranchers and BLM. The BLM failed to review monitoring sites with the ranchers as called for in the May agreement or provide adequate notice of its monitoring efforts. The BLM also did not consult with the ranchers before issuing its order to remove the cattle, which is a direct violation of the protocol listed in its own Drought Environmental Assessment.

Additionally, the BLM has used a collection method that surveys only the “most sensitive area of the most sensitive areas,” Schweigert said, to skew data to the disadvantage of the ranchers. “What was supposed to be used,” he explained, “was the Stubble Height Method, which should be employed on the entire stream reach.” As an example, he said the Stubble Height Method along the creek measured grass height of 6.8 inches, where the BLM method of measuring only the most sensitive area came up with a height of 2.9 inches.

He added the BLM method used only a 110 meter long by one meter wide area. That procedure monitored only five-hundredths of an acre along each site and Battle Mountain District Manager Doug Furtado used the data collected from those minuscule areas to order cattle off nearly 92,000 acres of the allotment.

Furthermore, the area closed by Furtado lies within the railroad corridor, where alternating sections are privately owned. That means the BLM’s July 23 order forced the ranchers to remove cattle from 50,000 acres of their own private property.

And finally, Schweigert charged, BLM has used language in communications with Administrative Law Judge James H. Heffernan that deliberately attempts to cloud the truth. He said that in communications with the court, the ranchers explained that dewatering efforts by a mine in Slaven Canyon were slowing the flow from a spring there. BLM responded to the court that there was no mine on public land in Slaven Canyon. Schweigert said the BLM statement is factually true, since the mine is on private property immediately adjacent to the spring, but contends the statement was intended to imply to the court that there was no mine at all in the canyon.

In another example, in communications with the court, the BLM refers to the road along Mill Creek as merely “an old mine road,” when in fact it is a 60-foot-wide, active haul road used by a neighboring mine.

Former Nevada Assemblyman John Carpenter of Elko opened Saturday’s event and called attention to a guest editorial critical of the ranchers’ fight with the BLM in a recent edition of the Elko Daily Free Press authored by Katie Fite, who described herself as an employee of Western Watersheds Project, a notorious anti-ranching environmental group.

“Damn them!” Carpenter declared.

“I didn’t see any of their members out here this spring when the BLM demanded that 16 miles of fence be built to protect the rangeland. And none of them were around over the past several generations when our ancestors were here developing water systems and building fences to benefit all wildlife, not just their cows,” Carpenter continued.

Carpenter explained Western Watersheds is not really an environmental organization interested in protecting the rangeland or its wildlife. Rather, he said, it is a political group focused solely on removing ranchers and their livestock from public lands.

To prove his point, Carpenter recounted that while he was serving in the Nevada Legislature in 1993, Western Watersheds accompanied much of its propaganda with the catchy slogan, “Cattle free by ’93.”

“Well, I answered them with my own slogan,” Carpenter continued, “Cattle galore by ’94.”

He said Western Watersheds has been attacking ranchers for more than 20 years and he has yet to see them do one productive thing for the range or its wildlife.

Rancher Pete Tomera agreed, “This current dispute is another example of the group’s destructive nature. If anyone was really concerned about the condition of the range, would they be asking us to move our cattle off the mountain, where there is lots of feed and water, down to the flats that were already grazed off this spring, while we were waiting for Furtado to back off his February ruling closing the summer pastures.”

Dorothy Steninger of Lamoille commented, it was hard to pick out what the WWP’s employee described as an “elite clique of highly subsidized cattlemen” among the weathered faces and well-worn jeans of those attending the tour.

Carpenter introduced Dick Smith of Ruby Valley, who said he was there to offer the ranchers the support of the Shoshone Indians. He said Mount Lewis is home of a special plant that the Indians use for many medicinal purposes and offered swigs of the spiritual juice to both Carpenter and Tomera. He said the Indians worried that without grazing, the plant was threatened by the inevitable range fires.

Tomera also told the crowd the BLM had just inspected the mountain with an aerial flight and informed him that they had counted 273 cows still out on the mountain. Tomera quipped that he replied that the ranchers should be congratulated for doing such a good job. He explained they were licensed to run 2,114 cows on the nearly 100,000 acres of the steep, rugged Mount Lewis summer pasture, and to get all but 273 cows off in such a short time was a remarkable effort.

Before setting off on the tour, Tomera asked those in attendance to pay close attention to the country they were driving through and ask themselves, “Is this being overgrazed, or over-governed.”

The tour was then taken to three separate monitoring sites that were among those used by the BLM to close the summer pasture around Mount Lewis and all three of the sites were flawed in one way or another, Schweigert explained.

The first stop was along Mill Creek, where the site selected for monitoring was a stretch of about 100 yards, where the overflow from a spring trickled along the 60-foot wide haul road. Schweigert explained the site did not meet the BLM’s own criteria for a monitoring site because it was a spring flow, not a stream bed, and the flow was confined by the haul road on one side and steep terrain on the other.

Tomera added the BLM’s own drought regulations state “temporary electric fencing could be used to exclude livestock from critical areas.”

“He (Furtado) didn’t have to order our cows off the mountain,” Tomera explained. “He could have just asked us to put up a little temporary fencing. It would have been a drop in the bucket compared to the 16 miles of permanent fencing he required us to build last spring.”

Many of those on the tour also signed up as volunteers to come help the ranchers build the fence, if that option were to become available.

On the second stop of the tour along Ferris Creek, Ruby Valley rancher Cliff Gardner cautioned that fencing off riparian areas could be counter-productive, since that practice has proven to damage sage grouse habitat and the bird was facing a listing as an endangered species.

He said livestock grazing is critical to the sagehen’s survival. He explained cattle graze off the tall grasses and that lets the small, fine clovers and forbs receive sunlight and grow. Gardner said predator control is the most important element in restoring historic sage grouse populations, but those small green plants also are critical to the sagehen’s survival. He cited the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge in northwest Nevada and the Ruby Marsh Wildlife Refuge in Elko County as examples of what happens when livestock is removed. With the accumulation of dead grass and the annual regrowth of tall grass, no sunlight reaches the ground where the forbs grow.

“We’re missing a bet here,” Gardner concluded. “If all of us educate ourselves better and understand the benefits of livestock on the ranges, we should be taking the fight to them.”

Tomera and Schweigert conceded that Gardner was correct, but explained that the areas they were talking about were very small and there were many nearby riparian areas on private land that would continue to be grazed. They also explained they would rather not fence the riparian areas either, but that option was better than removing the cattle completely.

The final stop on the tour was Slaven Canyon, where Schweigert pointed out the barite mine owned by Baker-Hughes that Furtado contended did not exist “on public land.”

The group then returned to Battle Mountain for a barbecue prepared at the Cowboy Camp, a protest area erected across the highway from the BLM office. The camp is equipped with tents, wagons and signage calling for Furtado’s ouster from office. Organizers of the protest vow to keep the camp open until Furtado is gone.

A Grass March/Cowboy Express also is being planned for late September to deliver petitions seeking Furtado’s ouster to Washington, D.C. Katie Jones is serving as coordinator of the event and those interested in participating or making a donation can contact her at 925-640-1102. She has also established a website at





Transcontinental Cowboy Express to deliver petitions to Washington

Rex Steninger, courtesy of the Elko Daily Free Press,

August 11, 2014

Battle Mountain BLM District Manager Doug Furtado’s order of July 23 that ranchers remove their cattle from Mount Lewis has spurred the ranchers and their supporters to carry their fight to remove Furtado from office to Washington, D.C., via the Grass March and Cowboy Express.

“I know we can do it,” declared Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber. “After the experience we had with the Grass March and Cowboy Express going from Elko to Carson City in May, we now know that we could leave next week and make it to Washington in approximately twenty days. That shakedown ride was over 10 percent of the distance to Washington.”

“We will need a lot of volunteer riders and horses, but we know we can get it done,” agreed Jess Jones.

Jones of Lamoille is serving as boss of the transcontinental Grass March/Cowboy Express and his wife Katie is serving as coordinator. Those interested in taking part can contact her at 925-640-1102, Eddyann Filippini at 775-635-3654 or Gerber’s law office at 775-738-9258.

The organizers said they also are seeking donations from individuals and businesses to help defray the substantial costs of the huge undertaking. Expenses will include hay, grain, fuel, food and lodging.

The ambitious continuation of the Grass March/Cowboy Express across the entire continental United States is set to begin Sept. 29 and the organizers hope to have it completed in less than three weeks.

The original Grass March in May carried petitions seeking Furtado’s ouster on horseback from Elko to Battle Mountain and likened the plight of Nevada ranchers under the rule of the Bureau of Land Management to the plight of the people of India in the 1920s under British rule. Gandhi staged his Salt March in 1930 to call attention to the British enforced monopoly on salt. The local Grass March was staged to call attention to the BLM’s monopoly on Nevada’s grass lands.

In Nevada, the federal government claims outright ownership of nearly 90 percent of the state land and, through the checkerboard railroad corridor, exercises effective control over hundreds of thousands of additional acres of privately owned land. As an example, the Argenta Allotment under contention in Lander County is only 46 percent federally owned, the remaining 54 percent is privately owned by the ranchers and others. Gerber calculates that 92 percent of the grass in Nevada is under the absolute control of the federal government.

Additionally, the ranchers own the rights to all the water in the Mount Lewis area. But despite the fact it owns only a minority interest of the total acreage and none of the water, the BLM exercises complete control of the entire 336,000-acre allotment.

The original Grass March handed off the petitions to the Cowboy Express in Battle Mountain and it delivered them, Pony Express style, to Gov. Brian Sandoval in Carson City. The trip from Elko to Carson City took four days.

Lander County ranching families have been battling the BLM since last February, when Furtado announced that because of the continuing drought he was not going to permit any grazing on the Mount Lewis portion of the Argenta Allotment. The very livelihoods of the several members of the extended Tomera, Filippini and Mariluch families were threatened by the closure and the Tomeras sought the advice of Gerber, an Elko attorney.

Gerber advised the ranchers they stood absolutely no chance of prevailing in court before this year’s grazing season and only a slightly better chance of prevailing in the long run. He also cautioned them, “You can’t afford to fight the federal government in court. You might win one or two rounds, but it just keeps coming back.” Instead, he suggested the ranchers attempt to battle Furtado in the “Court of Public Opinion,” using the five freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Those freedoms are of religion (prayer), speech, press, assembly and to petition the government for a redress of grievancies.

In May, the ranchers hosted a Grass Tour to show everyone interested that spring rains had rejuvenated the grasses on the contested range. One stand of grass on the tour was measured at 22-inches tall. Many of the neighboring ranchers on the tour commented that they wished their rangelands were as good as what they were looking at on the tour.

The aggrieved ranchers also hired independent range consultants to conduct scientific evaluations of the contested range and one of the experts, Bob Schweigert of Intermountain Range Consultants in Winnemucca, reported grass heights three to four times as high as the past two drought years. “I would call it a normal year,” Schweigert said, “certainly not drought conditions by forage standards.”

Still Furtado refused to rescind his closure and plans were announced for the Grass March and Cowboy Express to deliver petitions with more than 1,000 signatures seeking a redress of grievances. The public pressure earned a visit by BLM officials from Reno and Washington, D.C. The federal agents refused to allow any public participation in their meetings with local and BLM officials, but shortly after their visit, Furtado relented and allowed the ranchers to turn out cattle at the end of May, nearly two and a half months later than normal.

The ranchers estimated the delay and fencing requirements demanded by the BLM cost them approximately $500,000.

Last month, the ranchers and their supporters also erected a Cowboy Grass Camp across the highway from the Battle Mountain BLM office replete with cowboy tents, wagons and other western artifacts. Signage at the camp calls for Furtado’s ouster. Those manning the camp vowed to keep it operating until Furtado is removed from office.

Schweigert explains the ranchers had to sign new grazing agreements with the BLM on May 23, before they would be allowed to turn out their cattle. He points out that the BLM has already violated two terms of that agreement.

First, the agreement states that the “BLM agree to, in coordination with the Argent permitees or their representatives were to review key” monitoring locations during the week of June 2 and June 6. When the ranchers arrived at the BLM office on the morning of June 2, they were told the project was cancelled. The next day, however, Dan Filippini came across a BLM employee out conducting range studies without any representation from the ranchers.

Secondly, the May 23 agreement states “BLM agrees to notify and invite any relevant Argenta permittee prior to any scheduled monitoring of the allotment.” Absolutely no prior notification was given for the June 3 monitoring effort and on July 21 the ranchers were given just a 36-hour notice that the BLM would begin monitoring the range with three separate teams deployed to three separate locations.

At the time of the July 21 announcement, Schweigert and his staff were in Idaho conducting range studies for another client and Jack Alexander of Synergy Resource Solutions, who represents Dan and Eddyann Filippini, was at home in his office in Belgrade, Mont. Schweigert immediately dispatched one of his employees on the 500-mile drive to Battle Mountain and Alexander booked a flight to Salt Lake City and rented a car for the remaining 300-mile drive to Lander County.

Eddyann Filippini reported that after Alexander’s frantic trip from Montana, he arrived at the Mill Creek Campground at the BLM-appointed time only to learn the BLM had finished a portion of its work and the agents refused to go over that portion again with the ranchers’ agent.

Furtado has been caught in lies to the ranchers and their representatives and the ranchers feel it is imperative that they are allowed to have their representatives accompany and verify the BLM range monitoring efforts.

 “They lied to us again,” Eddyann Filippini said. “Furtado can’t be trusted and we don’t trust the data they collect from the range monitoring sites when they don’t allow us to accompany them.”

She added, “Getting information is like pulling teeth. We have made two written requests for all of BLM’s drought monitoring data and still have not received anything. This latest stunt, less than two days’ notice of the monitoring effort, is typical.”

She also cautioned Elko County ranchers that they should be very concerned about what’s happening in Lander County, since the Elko BLM Drought Environmental Assessment is exactly the same as the one being used to curtail grazing by the Battle Mountain district.

The Battle Mountain BLM office has operated under a veil of secrecy. Furtado has failed to return phone messages left on the direct line to his desk and the BLM has told the ranchers repeatedly not to invite any outside interests to their meetings. Prior to the July 23 effort to evaluate the range, the BLM’s Mike Vermeys stated the BLM would cancel the survey if any members of the general public showed up to participate in the process.

“Notwithstanding[DS1]  this threat to the permittees, the BLM itself conducted a clandestine tour of the Argenta Allotment with Western Watershed Project on July 16, without any notification to the permittees whatsoever,” Schweigert reported. Western Watersheds is a notorious anti-ranching environmental organization.

Gerber charges that it is absolutely intolerable that families that have been ranching and supporting the local economies in this area for well over 100 years have to deal with such treachery from federal bureaucrats. “Furtado is a deceitful, vindictive man and no law abiding Nevadan should be forced to live under his authoritative rule.”

 Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl adds, “The problems created by the BLM in Battle Mountain are typical of many of the problems created by the federal agencies throughout the West and emphasize the importance of transferring the public lands from the federal government to the states.”





Ranchers begin protest across from BLM office

Rex Steninger, courtesy of the Elko Daily Free Press,

July 9, 2014

Lander County ranchers are still being frustrated by the actions of Bureau of Land Management District Manager Doug Furtado and have announced plans to establish a protest across from BLM headquarters that they vow will continue until the manager is removed from office.

“We have always followed the requirements of the BLM without publicly complaining” Pete Tomera explains, “but the decision by Furtado in February to completely eliminate grazing on Mount Lewis would have destroyed us. He had pushed us into a corner, and even a mouse will fight back when pushed into a corner. Our families have started to fight back and we are not going to back down. Furtado is a vindictive person and so we have to continue until he is gone or he will destroy us when he gets the chance.”

Eddyann Filippini added, “We do not trust him and never will trust him.”

The protest across from the Battle Mountain BLM office is being called the Cowboy Grass Camp and is the latest in a string of grass-roots efforts organized to get the BLM to rescind the February closure of Mount Lewis to grazing and have Furtado removed from office.

Following a Grass Tour of the allotment that was attended by 200 interested residents and the announcement of plans for a Grass March from Elko to Battle Mountain and a Cowboy Express to deliver petitions seeking Furtado’s removal from office to Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval a representative from the Washington office of the BLM came out for a visit and inspection of the disputed rangeland. Only then did Furtado relent and the ranchers began turning out their cattle on May 27, two and a half months later than usual.

However, Furtado was soon caught in another deceitful maneuver.

As part of that agreement allowing the ranchers to graze Mount Lewis, Furtado said his agents would begin monitoring the grass growth on the allotment on June 2. The BLM also pledged to give sufficient notice and an invitation to all interested parties whenever it sent out agents to monitor range conditions.

The ranchers and their range specialist, Bob Schweigert of Intermountain Range Consultants in Winnemucca, arrived at the Battle Mountain BLM office early on the morning of June 2. The ranchers had hired Schweigert earlier to counter the BLM’s contention that the allotment needed to be rested from grazing to recover from the two-year-long drought. After Schweigert’s extensive study of the allotment, he declared it to be a normal year, “certainly not drought conditions by forage standards.”

With that expert advice, the ranchers eagerly awaited the June 2 tour of the allotment with the BLM to survey the range conditions. But, at 7:40 that morning a BLM agent approached them and announced that the monitoring mission had been canceled. The ranchers and their consultant returned home frustrated, confused and angry.

The following day, Dan Filippini, by chance, found a BLM agent out collecting range samples without any invitation to or representation from the ranchers, a direct violation of the grazing agreement they had all just signed.

Grant Gerber, a lawyer and Elko County Commissioner, charged that the June 2 announcement declaring the monitoring effort had been cancelled is the second time in the past few months that District Manager Furtado has been caught in a direct lie to the people he is supposed to be representing. The first lie occurred last winter, when Nevada Assemblyman Ira Hansen called Furtado to ask what time a meeting with the ranchers was planned so he could attend. Furtado lied to Hansen that there was no meeting scheduled. Hansen found out from another source what time the meeting was to take place. He attended and introduced himself to Furtado.

Gerber charges that it is absolutely intolerable that families that have been ranching and supporting the local economies in this area for well over 100 years have to deal with such treachery from a federal bureaucrat. “He has to be removed from office,” Gerber demanded. “He is a deceitful, vindictive man and no law abiding Nevadan should be forced to live under his authoritative rule.”

The Lander County ranchers said the Cowboy Grass Camp protest across from the Battle Mountain BLM office will call attention to Furtado’s tyrannical rule over the district and the costs and dangers his decisions are causing. The ranchers explained they have incurred over $500,000 in expenses because of Furtado’s original decision closing the allotment. They added by the time Furtado relented and allowed cattle onto Mount Lewis, much of the tall cheat grass on the foot hills had dried out and now poses a significant fire danger. They also plan to call attention to the fact that 56 percent of the land on and around Mount Lewis is private property owned by the ranchers and other private interests. Only 46 percent of the area is public land, but the BLM assumes complete control. Additionally, all the water is privately owned by the Tomeras. Pete Tomera reports he holds the water rights to 89 springs and 185 miles of creeks. The BLM owns no water within the area.

“In February, Furtado told us that none of us could put any cattle on Mount Lewis this year,” Tomera said. “We tried and tried to get him to change his mind, but only after we started the First Amendment actions and Washington got involved did he cave in. We were supposed to be able to put our cattle on Mount Lewis in March. His delay in finally letting our six families put out over 2,000 cattle cost us over $500,000 in hay we had to buy, 16 miles of fence he required us to build and other costs. He has to go. We are going to keep the Cowboy Grass Camp up until he is gone.”

 “Our cattle would still not be on Mount Lewis,” Eddyann Filippini said, “and we would have had to sell them because there was no pasture that we could lease, buying hay was ruining us and the dust on the feed grounds was killing our calves. Without the support of Gov. Sandoval, Congressman Amodei, Sen. Goicoechea, Assemblymen Ellison and Hansen, former state Assemblyman John Carpenter, the Lander and Elko County Commissions and many others we would have been completely destroyed. In addition, the dried grass would have posed an incredible fire danger and all the animals on the mountain could have burned.”

Tomera asked for volunteers to help man the camp and cowboys to stay at the camp for a day or two and help the ranchers catch up with the cattle work that was delayed by the late turn out of the cows. Additionally, the extra riders would be available to help get the cattle off the mountain if a fire were to break out. Volunteers are being asked to contact the Tomeras at 775-635-5610.

Rancher John Neff of Ruby Valley liked the idea of the Cowboy Grass Camp and said, “Neighbors help each other every year with branding and have always helped when there were weather problems, sickness or injury. This calamity imposed on the Tomera, Filippini and Mariluch families was brought on by the BLM and we all need to jump in and help.”


Governor Gibbons helps Ranchers turn out cattle on Mt. Lewis

Rex Steninger, courtesy of the Elko Daily Free Press,

June 2, 2014

Former Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons showed up Thursday to help Pete Tomera and his family turn their cows out on the contested Bureau of Land Management grazing allotment south of Battle Mountain. The former governor came in a show of support for the ranchers, who have been fighting a decision by Battle Mountain District Manager Doug Furtado to close the mountain pasture. Furtado finally relented last Friday.

Meanwhile, petitions seeking Furtado’s removal from office were delivered yesterday by the Cowboy Express to current Nev. Gov. Brian Sandoval. The petitions were carried horseback from Elko in five days.

Furtado told the extended Tomera and Filippini families in February that he was not going to allow any grazing on the Mount Lewis pasture of the Argenta Allotment because of the drought. His decision left the longtime ranching families facing financial ruin and sparked a grassroots effort to pressure the BLM into rescinding Furtado’s closure. That effort has included a public outcry by the ranching families, a petition drive demanding Furtado’s removal from office, a Grass Tour of the affected pasture, a Grass March calling attention to the BLM’s autocratic control of Nevada’s rangelands, and a Cowboy Express to deliver the petitions horseback to the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City.

Former Gov. Gibbons said Thursday, “Most people don’t have to fight to make a living. These folks do.”

Former Elko County rancher and state Assemblyman John Carpenter also was on hand to support the turn out.

Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber has been spearheading the opposition to the BLM closure and says the pressure is working. Last week, Nevada BLM Director Amy Lueders and a representative from National BLM Director Neil Kornze’s office visited with Elko and Lander County Commissioners and the Lander County ranchers. Last Friday, the BLM agreed to allow a partial turn out of the ranchers’ cattle. The BLM termed the agreement temporary and said it would have formal grazing licenses prepared by next week.

But Gerber worries that the ranchers are under so much financial pressure that they will be “bullied and blackmailed” into signing grazing licenses that will be harmful to them in the long term. He adds that many times in the past, ranchers have agreed to “temporary” reductions in grazing that have never been restored. As an example, he said, grazing in the Argenta Allotment was cut by 50 percent way back in the 1960s and those cuts became permanent.

Gerber insists that nothing less than a complete turn out of the ranchers’ cattle and Director Furtado’s removal from office should be accepted. To that end, he committed himself, either solely or with relief and at his own expense, to deliver the petitions horseback from Elko to Carson City.

The first leg of the trip, from Elko to Battle Mountain, he called a Grass March and likened it to Gandhi’s Salt March in India that eventually gained that country’s independence from England. In India, the British government enforced a total monopoly on salt, Gerber explained, and in Nevada, the federal government enforces a monopoly on our land and grass. The federal government claims ownership of 87 percent of Nevada land and, through the railroad corridor, even assumes control of hundreds of thousands of acres of private property.

In the Argenta Allotment, 56 percent of the land is owned by the ranchers and other private interests. In addition, all 89 springs and 185 miles of creeks are owned by the ranchers. “The federal government owns no water and only 44 percent of the land, yet they tell the ranchers when and how they can graze. It is an intolerable situation. Why should the federal government be able to control an individual’s private land?”

Gerber also said that as he rode westward past the allotment, he noticed that the cheat grass has begun to turn color and dry out. “The fire danger is growing and a spark will soon be able to take the whole thing out,” he said. He also explained that on average a minimum of three animals are killed for every acre of rangeland that burns. If the entire, 335,000 allotment were to burn, over a million rabbits, birds and other animals would be killed.

On Monday, the Grass March, consisting of Gerber, his son, Travis, and teamster Andy Boyer passed through Carlin and was met by a parade, rally and mini-rodeo organized by Mayor Cliff Eklund. The March continued on after a brief break, camped near the Beowawe Exit off Interstate 80 that night and reached Battle Mountain Tuesday. There the riders were greeted with a three-block long parade.

Gerber then handed the petitions over to Jess Jones of Lamoille, who organized the Cowboy Express to deliver the petitions, Pony Express style, to the governor. “Thank God for Jess,” Gerber declared, “without him, we would not have made it.”

At 4:30 Wednesday morning, Pete Tomera rode out of Battle Mountain with the petitions. He was relieved by his son, Dan, then a 14-year-old girl from the 25 Ranch, then EddieAnn Filippini, then Dan Filippini and then Shawn Mariluch.

The Lander County ranching families cemented their resolve and pled their case as they galloped the first leg of the Cowboy Express all the way to Winnemucca. “That really made my heart feel good. Made me feel wonderful,” Gerber said of the ranchers taking charge of the first leg of the Cowboy Express to Carson City.

The relay left Winnemucca about noon Wednesday and continued the 72 miles to Lovelock, where it was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd at the Lovelock Community Center. “I think every big rancher in Pershing County is represented here,” beamed Mikie Gottschalk, who organized the reception.

A.J. Duncan told the group his family was very sympathetic and supportive of the Lander County ranchers. He added his family has been ranching in the county for four generations and fighting with the BLM for the past 18 years trying to get the agency to remove feral horses from the range. He explained the allotment is officially declared horse free, but the BLM refuses to remove the more than 300 horses that now graze there.

His grandfather, John Aufdermaur, said the family was forced to accept a 100-cow reduction in its grazing rights last year. “Assuming an 80-percent calf crop,” the grandfather said, “that is costing their family $80,000 a year.”

The horses also are causing problems elsewhere. Rory Munn of the Lovelock Water District told the crowd that the horses were threatening the community’s water supply. At the well heads east of town, the thirsty horses have been pushing against the chain-link fences protecting the wells and pumping equipment. “That’s a multi-million dollar facility and they could really cause some damage if they got in there,” he said.

John Espil, who runs sheep and cattle from Susanville, Calif., to Lovelock, explained he and his brother are the last ranchers in their allotment in northwestern Nevada. He said there used to be a dozen families grazing cattle there, but now it is just them. “It makes it tough at branding time. There is no one left to share help with,” he said.

He explained he was very supportive of the approach Gerber was taking – avoiding the courts of law and targeting the Court of Public Opinion. He explained he faced a similar closure on his allotment about 20 years ago and spent three years and $250,000 in attorney fees and ended up right back where they started.

He also warned the gathering of the fire danger posed by ungrazed rangeland. After all his neighbors were out of his country, the allotment burned. “We used to have excellent deer hunting and sagehen hunting. Now, there is little else but cheatgrass.”

The Cowboy Express again set off a first light Thursday and made it to Bob Depaoli’s place west of Dayton by nightfall. The riders carried the petitions on into Carson City yesterday morning.

Gerber offered his thanks to all the riders in the Cowboy Express and everyone else that helped with the community rallies and his march across the state. Now, he, the ranchers and all the citizens across the state that signed the petition must wait to see if the governor and the other elected representatives honor the petition by demanding the removal of Director Furtado.

“We have to keep the heat on. We need to write to the governor and call the governor and write Letters to the Editor,” Gerber said. He also reminded everyone that this is not just a fight between the Tomeras, Filippinis and Furtado. “There were a total of seven grazing allotments closed last year and it will just get worse if we don’t stop him. He is a vindictive, mean man.”


Lander County Ranchers Reach agreement with BLM

Rex Steninger, courtesy of the Elko Daily Free Press,

May 27, 2014

Lander County ranchers reached a temporary agreement Friday with the Bureau of Land Management to graze the Mount Lewis pasture of the Argenta Allotment. The BLM issued two-week licenses to the families and promised a formal decision within that time.

But the agreement did not shake the resolve of Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber to begin his Grass March to Battle Mountain. He organized the march to call attention to the plight of the ranchers that were told in February by BLM Director Doug Furtado that he would not permit any grazing on the pasture this summer because of the drought. The decision left the several families of the extended Tomera and Filippini families scrambling to find alternative pastures and facing financial ruin.

Gerber says he worries that the ranchers are being “bullied and blackmailed” into agreements that will be harmful to them in the long term. He adds Nevada ranchers have accepted “temporary” cuts to their grazing rights in the past that have never been restored.

On his march, Gerber is carrying petitions seeking Furtado’s removal from office. Speakers at a May 17 Grass Tour of the allotment detailed examples of the director’s deceit and arrogance. Several also expressed concern that the grass would pose an extreme fire danger if it were not grazed off. The director has not returned phone calls seeking comment.

“We need to keep the heat on them,” Gerber declared. “I truly think that if we just stay with it, they will get rid of Furtado.”

“The Tomera and Filippini families got a partial victory. Nine days ago, Furtado was adamant that no cattle would be allowed on Mount Lewis this year. Then his resolve began to crack under pressure of the mounting indignation by the public,” Gerber explained. “Knowing the pressure was going to increase, he caved in hoping that would stop the move to oust him. But he is too late. He has to go.”

Shortly after Furtado’s announcement in February that he planned to close he pasture, rains brought much needed relief to the drought and the range grasses flourished. Bob Schweigert of Intermountain Range Consultants in Winnemucca has conducted an extensive assessment of the allotment and judged it to be in normal condition and fully capable of sustaining the ranchers cattle.

Gerber and his son, Travis, with petitions in hand, headed out horseback at first light Monday morning and were greeted with a parade and rally at the Carlin Equestrian Center organized by Carlin Mayor Cliff Eklund. The Gerbers then resumed their trek to Battle Mountain.

On Wednesday morning, the petitions will be handed off to a Cowboy Express that will carry them, Pony Express style, to the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City.

Jess Jones of Lamoille is organizing the Express and says additional riders are still needed. Those interested in joining the effort can contact him at 1-775-340-1836. He is also organizing rallies to greet the riders as they pass through the communities on the way to Carson City. Anyone interested in helping organize the rallies, signing the petition or donating hay or cash to help defray the costs of the Cowboy Express can contact Jones.

Pershing County rancher Mike Gottschalk says recent government actions remind him of the famous quotation by Martin Niemoller, a Protestant pastor that emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and who spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in a concentration camp.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Socialist,” Niemoller said. “Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The same can be said of our current government, Gottschalk points out. “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 over run with them. Now they are coming to save the sagehen, 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.”

Grant Gerber slates Historic Grass March

Rex Steninger, Courtesy of the Elko Daily Free Press,

May 23, 2014

Grant Gerber will head out horseback at daylight Monday on his Grass March and will be greeted with a parade when he reaches Carlin. The parade will wind its way through town and head to the Equestrian Park, where a welcome celebration is planned.

During the festivities, Gerber will resume his march to Battle Mountain, where he plans to hand off petitions seeking the removal of Bureau of Land Management Director Doug Furtado to a Cowboy Express that will deliver the petitions, Pony Express style, to the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City. Separate rallies are being planned all along the way.

Gerber, an Elko County Commissioner and local lawyer, is staging his march to call attention to the plight of the ranching families affected by Director Furtado’s decision to close the Argenta Allotment to grazing this summer. Furtado cited the three-year drought when he announced the closure in February, but rains since then have caused the grasses in the allotment to flourish. The allotment has been judged by Bob Schweigert of Intermountain Range Consultants to be in good shape.

“When I proposed this march to my family, my son, Dallas, pointed out it was similar to Ghandi’s Salt March in India in the 1930s that eventually led to the citizens of India gaining their freedom from the dictatorial rule of the British government,” the commissioner explained. “The British government had a total monopoly on all salt. All salt had to be bought from the British government. In Nevada, the federal government has a monopoly on Nevada land and the grass. The government owns 87 percent of Nevada’s land and also exercises total control of much of the private land as well. The effective control of the government exceeds 92 percent of the grass in Nevada.”

The allotment under contention in Lander County, according to figures gathered by Allie Bear, is only 46 percent public land, yet the BLM exercises absolute control. The allotment lies within the 40-mile wide railroad corridor in which every other section of land was deeded to the rail companies. The closure prevents the use of 186,172 acres of privately held land that the Tomeras either own outright or lease.

“We believe that it is the inalienable right of Nevadans to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil,” Gerber said. “We believe also that since the agencies of the federal government are depriving Nevadans of their rights and oppressing them that the control of the federal lands must be transferred to the State of Nevada. If any government deprives a people of their rights and oppresses them, the people have a right to alter that government or abolish it. The British government in India not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom, but was ruining India economically, politically, culturally and spiritually. The same thing is happening in Nevada.”

“I will be the Cowboy Gandhi,” he declared.

Carlin Mayor Cliff Eklund said the Carlin community is supportive of the families facing the BLM closure. “The ranching community is very important to the economy of Carlin and all of northern Nevada and we welcome the opportunity to show our support.”

Carlin’s parade is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Monday at the East Carlin Exit from Interstate 80 and end at the Equestrian Center, where food and refreshments will be available. Jess Jones of Lamoille also is organizing a mini-rodeo for the event.

Mayor Eklund said several speakers will be on hand to discuss the ongoing grazing dispute with the BLM and the Furtado petition will be available for those interested in adding their names.

In addition, Gerber is encouraging all the area’s Dutch Oven chefs to plan on attending and preparing their favorite recipe to share with the crowd. Andy Boyer of Elko will be on hand driving a chuck wagon pulled by a pair of while mules.

The Cowboy Gandhi will then mount back up, circle the arena and resume his Grass March to Battle Mountain. “I plan to ride as long and as hard as my old body can stand and arrive in Battle Mountain late Tuesday or early Wednesday.”

After Gerber’s 70-mile Grass March the Furtado petitions will be handed off at daylight Wednesday morning to the Cowboy Express that will relay them to Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Rallies are being planned along the way in Winnemucca, Lovelock, Fallon and Carson City and the petitions always will be available for more signatures.

The Cowboy Express is an ambitious undertaking, Gerber explained. He already has had calls of support from Las Vegas, southern Idaho, Round Mountain and the Nevada Division of the National Pony Express Association. Still the journey from Battle Mountain to Carson City is over 200 miles and much of it will have to be ridden at night, so more riders will probably be needed. Help also would be appreciated to organize the rallies in the various communities. Those interested can call Gerber at his office, 7389258, or on his cell phone, 934-7507.


Argenta Grass Tour draws Crowd of 200

Rex Steninger, Courtesy of the Elko Daily Free Press,

May 20, 2014

Two hundred concerned citizens turned out Saturday for the Grass Tour of the Argenta Allotment south of Battle Mountain that was closed for grazing earlier this year by the Bureau of Land Management’s District Manager Doug Furtado.

The collection of ranchers, citizens and elected representatives was taken on a tour that showed thousands of acres of tall green grass and listened to a report from Bob Schweigert of Intermountain Range Consultants, who said the range was in good shape and fully capable of supporting cattle.

“The BLM likes to say all this green grass is not forage, but recovery,” Schweigert told the assembly. “I’m here to tell you it is not recovery, it is recovered.”

The Grass Tour was organized by Elko attorney and Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber and former rancher and state assemblyman John Carpenter, who also is a candidate for Elko County Commissioner. They are trying to get BLM Director Furtado to reverse his decision to close the mountain allotment to grazing.

“We were so pleased with the great support from our wonderful friends,” Lynn Tomera said. “Thank you all.”

The 340,000-acre allotment, which is 56 percent private property, is grazed by the extended Tomera and Filippini families. The closure has left them all scrambling for alternative pasture and facing financial ruin. Furtado says the closure was necessary in response to the drought of the past three years. The ranchers point out he made his decision last winter and that the rains over the past four months have ended the drought and the range is in good condition.

Following an opening prayer and Pledge of Allegiance Saturday morning, Carpenter introduced the various elected representatives that were there to show their support. They included Nevada State Senator Pete Goicoechea, Nevada Assemblymen Ira Hansen and John Ellison, Nevada Cattlemen’s Association President Ron Torell, the Lander County Commission and the Elko County Commission, the Pershing County District Attorney and the Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney. U.S. Senator Dean Heller and U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei sent staffers to voice their support.

Carpenter asked if anyone in the group was there to represent the BLM. When no one stepped forwarded, Carpenter quipped, “I guess that says a lot, since we made a special effort to invite them.” Director Furtado also has failed to return two phone messages left at his desk over the past week seeking comment for this story.

All of those who spoke offered support for the ranchers and condemnation of the BLM, but Schweigert, an expert in range rehabilitation, came loaded with facts and figures he had gathered over the past several weeks after conducting a scientific evaluation of the allotment on behalf of the ranchers.

“I would call it a normal year,” Schweigert told the crowd, “certainly not drought conditions by forage standards. Last year, and other drier years, I have measured seed-stalk height of squirrel tail and Sandberg’s bluegrass at three to four inches at full maturity. Here, we are at around 11 to 12 inches tall.”

The range consultant explained he purposely analyzed the “worst case scenario,” the lowest elevation sites in the summer use area. Additionally, he pointed out, the BLM has ignored the fact the Argenta Allotment had significant rains last fall that resulted in a lot of green new growth during the “so-called drought.”

Schweigert told the crowd Saturday that particularly the cheat grass needs to be eaten now, while it is still green and full of protein and nutrients. “Cows will get pig-fat on this grass right now,” he said, but in a couple of weeks it will dry out and lose most of its benefit. At that point, Schweigert and many of the other speakers pointed out, the dried grass becomes a tremendous fire danger.

Smoked Bear made an appearance during the tour and sat in the tall grass with Alyx Vogler and a group of children. Vogler had a big sack of stuffed animals and pulled out one at a time and asked the kids, “If all this grass catches fire, do you think this little critter will make it out?” “No,” the kids replied. “That’s right,” Vogler answered, “it will die.”

Gerber explained that the government’s own figures state that, on a very low average, three animals are killed in every acre that burns in a wild fire. Using that figure, over a million animals would die if the entire 340,000-acre Argenta Allotment burned.

On top of that, millions of tax dollars would be wasted fighting the fire and the lives of hundreds of fire-fighters would be put at risk.

Assemblyman Hansen (R-Reno) accused the BLM’s Furtado of pushing a political agenda with flawed science and also accused him of intimidation and deceit. He told the audience that he had first-hand knowledge of the district manager’s deceit. He explained he was encouraged by Sen. Goicoechea to attend a meeting this winter between the ranchers on the allotment and Furtado. However, Goicoechea didn’t know the exact time of the meeting, so Hansen called the Battle Mountain BLM office and asked to speak to Director Furtado. Furtado told him that no meeting was in the works.

But within an hour of his phone call to Furtado, Hansen received another call from a rancher that reported the meeting was definitely being held and Furtado had just warned him that if Sen. Goicoechea and Assemblyman Hansen attended, he would cancel the meeting. Despite that warning, Hansen called his bluff and attended the meeting. He told the Saturday gathering that encounter with the director serves as testimony to the character of the man.

To back up his claim of intimidation, Hansen explained when a petition to remove Furtado from office was first started in Battle Mountain, Furtado sent out an armed ranger dressed in “full SWAT costume” to the hardware store where the petition was available. The ranger warned it was “a federal offense to threaten a BLM employee” and proceeded to take pictures of the petition.

The intimidation backfired, however, and petitions now are also available in Elko, Winnemucca and Eureka. Gerber guesses close to 1,000 signatures have been collected so far.

The county commissioner also reminded everyone that the petition is not a threat, but the exercise of the rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech… or the right of the people… to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

“The citizens of the Battle Mountain BLM District have been harmed by the decisions made by Director Furtado and it is their right to petition their elected representatives. Now it is the duty of those representatives to remedy the problem,” Gerber said.

Assemblyman Ellison (R-Elko) addressed the crowd during one of the stops along the tour and pointed to children playing on the surrounding hills, “There is a truly endangered species – our future generation of ranchers.” He then cautioned everyone to stand together or the federal government would destroy them one at a time, “just like a predator attacking a herd.”

Alan Dueck of Battle Mountain echoed that theme and added, “This tour should not end on this mountain. The real work begins when we leave.” He implored everyone in attendance to go home and begin writing letters to their elected officials and the BLM. “Letters work,” he said.

Elko County Commissioner and long-time states’ rights advocate Demar Dahl reminded those in attendance that the problems they were witnessing were typical. “Washington makes the decisions about our public lands from thousands of miles away,” he said. “You can only vote for a few of those in Congress and you can vote for none of the bureaucrats whose decisions impact your life directly. It is time to transfer the management of the lands closer to home.”

Lenny Shepard of Battle Mountain was one of the last to address the assembled citizens. “We have our elected officials here supporting us, we have a range consultant that says the allotment can support the cows, and we have our sheriff here. Open the gates,” he demanded.

New BLM Battle Brewing Over Lander County grazing

Rex Steninger, Courtesy of the Elko Daily Free Press,

May 10, 2014

Several Lander County ranching families are scrambling to survive after what they describe as the Battle Mountain Bureau of Land Management’s decision to close the Argenta Allotment, where the families have been grazing cattle for generations.

Battle Mountain BLM District Manager Doug Furtado counters that he has not made a formal decision to close the allotment, he has simply asked the ranchers to rest sensitive areas through the hot summer months to allow the range to recover from three years of extreme drought. He adds the Tomeras already have cattle in one field on the north end of the allotment and other areas will be available this fall.

But the effective closure of the majority of the allotment leaves the ranchers scrambling to find pasture for the critical summer months.

The Argenta Allotment, surrounding Mount Lewis south of Battle Mountain, encompasses 335,000 acres. It is bound roughly by the Austin highway on the west and the Crescent Valley highway on the east. The families of Pete Tomera, Paul Tomera, Dan Tomera, Hank Filippini, Dan Flippini, Billie Filippini, Jim Filippini, John Filippini and Shawn Mariluch hold grazing rights on the allotment.

The closure is the latest example of what the ranchers say is heavy-handed treatment by the BLM.

But Furtado takes exception to that characterization. “I’m trying to help these guys be successful, but these are extreme circumstances.”

Pete Tomera, who holds the majority of the grazing rights on the allotment, explains he has always cooperated with the BLM and takes pride in the fact he has never been cited by the federal agency for improper grazing practices. He also says he has cooperated with the BLM’s concern over the drought and voluntarily accepted a cut of 8,000 animal unit months (AUMs) last year and 11,000 AUMs this year. An AUM is the amount of forage consumed by a cow in a month. Over an eight month grazing period, the 11,000 AUMs would represent a reduction of 1,375 cows.

He added he currently has grazing rights for 24,000 AUMs within the Argenta Allotment, which reflects a 50 percent reduction imposed by the BLM in the 1960s. His acceptance of an 11,000 AUM reduction this year would have been a further 45 percent reduction in the carrying capacity of the range.

He says he could understand the closure if the allotment truly could not support his cows, but that is not the case. The last three months have brought much needed relief from the recent drought and the range is in good condition. He has invited anyone interested in inspecting the range for themselves to come out for a tour of the allotment on May 17 (See sidebar).

But Furtado says, “They see green grass out there and all they see is forage for grazing. It is not forage, it is recovery.” He adds that he is charged with monitoring the range and implementing grazing reductions when he finds resource damage. He commended the ranchers for their concessions last year, but says those reductions were not effective in preventing damage. He said his agents have boxes of research documenting extensive degradation of the allotment.

The Tomeras answer that his documentation is purposely manipulated to make the range look worse than it really is. They add that they plan to hire their own expert to counter the BLM’s documentation.

In addition to the voluntary reductions in their AUMs, the Tomera family also agreed to a BLM recommendation that they build a 16-mile fence to separate the BLM controlled land from their private land. They hired a contractor to the tune of more than $80,000 and the fence was completed this spring.

Tomera and his wife, Lynn, then went in to the BLM office in March and had a three-hour meeting with a range conservationist to hammer out the final details of their grazing permit for this year on the Argenta Allotment. Tomera reports that even though the plan included the reduction of 11,000 AUMs, his family could live with it, and the range conservationist also seemed happy with the plan. He made the short drive home to his ranch, completed his afternoon chores and walked into his house around 5 p.m. to hear a message from the BLM that it had decided to close the allotment completely.

Tomera was dumbfounded, “I have worked hard my entire life to get along with the BLM and I have never been cited for trespass. 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.”

Director Furtado explains that the range conservationists that met with the Tomeras 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.”

Tomera has been selling cows all year to get down to numbers that would have satisfied his voluntary reduction in AUMs. “I have been sending out a semi load of cattle every other week,” the rancher said. But he still has 1,800 cows and their calves on his private pastures and they will be out of feed by June 1.

He said the Filippinis have found other pasture, but he can’t.

“What am I supposed to do? Sell all my cows? Then what? Sell the whole ranch?” he asked. “Who would buy a ranch that has been targeted by the BLM like this one has?”

Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber, an attorney who specializes in such cases, says the Tomera family is caught in a horrible position. They were given no notice of the impending closure and have very little recourse. Gerber, who has represented the Tomeras in other legal matters, explains “They could file a lawsuit, but what good would that do? There would be no resolution to the lawsuit in time for this grazing season, and little hope for a positive resolution in the future. You would probably win one, or two, or three rounds, but they just keep coming back. You can’t afford to fight the government in court.”

Gerber also said he worries about wildfires and their toll on the allotment’s wildlife. “With all the rain we’ve had the last three months, those mountains will be a tinderbox if the grass is not grazed off. Think of all the sage grouse, deer and other animals that will be killed if that mountain burns.”