Ranchers begin protest across from BLM office

Rex Steninger, courtesy of the Elko Daily Free Press, www.elkodaily.com

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.”