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.”