American ranching under attack
Thursday, June 12, 2014 5:00 PM
In the United States, a person is innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof falls to the accuser. But... what if the reverse were true; a presumption of guilt? Everything you've worked for your entire life, all that your parents and grandparents had worked for; retirement, savings, assets, home and children's future could vanish at the whim of a government official?
This happens to Americans every day, specifically many ranchers grazing livestock on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Without accountability, acknowledgment of private property rights, or unbiased third party review, a BLM official has the power to destroy ranchers by closing grazing allotments to livestock. The burden of proof to overrule this reckless decision falls to the rancher who must exhaust his finances in lengthy court battles against an opponent with infinite resources and limitless spending capabilities thanks to your tax-payer dollars. Meanwhile, the rancher must sell off his cattle as his grazing land has become inaccessible, goes out of business and faces financial ruin.
In a case such as this, BLM District Manager, Doug Furtado, issued seven Full Force and Effect Decisions completely closing allotments to all cattle grazing near Battle Mountain, in northern Nevada. The closure included allotments consisting of up to 97% privately-owned land. Mr. Furtado defended the closure citing recovery of drought conditions. Conversely, Intermountain Range Consultants from Winnemucca, Nevada, completed extensive scientific analysis of rangelands and concluded normal conditions capable of sustaining livestock. A tour of the allotments on May 17 showed spring rains left grass growth as tall as 16 inches in many areas. Without cattle grazing to control growth, wildfire will run rampant devastating rangeland habitat and wildlife in the area also putting homes at risk. Mr. Furtado has refused to negotiate in his decision issuing only a temporary two-week grazing license after intense political pressure and public discourse.
Unlike southern Nevadan, Cliven Bundy, permittees in the Battle Mountain District have (like the majority of ranchers across the country) always paid their grazing fees. They have worked with BLM employees to reduce cattle numbers to compensate for drought conditions. Ranchers are experts in caring for the land and effectively managing their livestock to best preserve the health and sustainability of the rangeland. Many ranchers today have college degrees. More importantly, they have experience, often spanning more than 6 generations, to back their management decisions. In contrast, the BLM fails meet their own standards for wild horse population numbers and management further demonstrating ineffective BLM policies and practices.
In Nevada, over 80% of the state is public land regulated by agencies such as the BLM or Forest Service. However, ranchers own the vast majority of valid private-property water rights and grazing rights associated with that land. Chains of title and documented historical range use verify cattle grazing for more than 100 years on most Nevada rangeland. These documents confirm lengthy precedents of use for livestock grazing - long before the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 or establishment of the BLM.
Although many BLM officials work diligently with ranchers to effectively manage the range for multiple uses including livestock grazing, accountability must take place for those that do not. After the rash actions of BLM District Manager, Doug Furtado, ranchers and supporters demonstrated their constitutional right of protest, and signed a petition demanding accountability with the removal of Furtado from his position. Beginning on Memorial Day in Elko, the petition (with over 1000 signatures) was carried 300 miles across the state of Nevada on horseback in a Pony Express relay. On Friday, May 30, about 40 horseback riders, a horse-drawn wagon, and an additional 50 plus supporters met at the Capitol Building in Carson City. Nevada Governor, Brian Sandoval, accepted the petition and asserted support for Nevada's ranchers by voicing their concerns to the highest office in the federal agency. Copies of the petition were sent to Nevada's Senators and Representatives.
Americans cannot look the other way. This is a call for to all to stand firm with US ranchers and farmers. Protect all constitutional and private-property rights. Demand accountability and common-sense in government regulation and authority. As Ben Franklin's words still ring true today, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."
Katie DeLong is a resident of Denio.