Bundy vs. BLM in Bunkerville, Nevada
By Leesa Zalesky
The state of Nevada is no stranger to battles over private, state, and federal land and water rights. In fact in Nevada, ironically known as "The Battle Born State," more than 80% of the land is managed or controlled by federal agencies. It was the birthplace of the Sagebrush Rebellion in the 1970s and '80s, and it is among several Western states where ranchers have regularly challenged federal land ownership and management.
The latest showdown pits Cliven Bundy and his claims of ancestral rights to graze his cows on open range against federal claims that his cattle are trespassing on the fragile habitat of the endangered desert tortoise. The dispute dates back to 1993, when land managers cited concerns for the federally-protected tortoise and capped Bundy's herd at 150 animals on a 250-square-mile rangeland allotment before revoking his grazing permits completely. Bundy, who ignored two court orders and continued to graze his livestock on the allotments in question, says that his Mormon family's 19th century melon farm and ranch operation in the area predates creation of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 1946 and that he does not believe the federal government has any jurisdiction over his grazing rights. Bundy, 68, has reportedly refused to pay BLM grazing fees since 1993, and he estimates that he owes about $300,000 today in back fees. The federal government puts that tab above $1 million.
A court order issued on November 3, 1998, permanently enjoined Bundy from grazing his livestock in the Bunkerville Allotment and ordered Bundy to remove his livestock from the allotment before November 30, 1998. The court also ordered that the United States was entitled to trespass damages from Bundy for livestock left on the Bunkerville Allotment after November 30. The court ruled that "the public lands in Nevada are the property of the United States because the United States has held title to those public lands since 1848, when Mexico ceded the land to the United States." Bundy, who represented himself in the case, argued that the United States' exercise of ownership over federal lands violates the Equal Footing Doctrine; that the U.S. is basing its authority to sanction Bundy for his unauthorized use of federal lands on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as opposed to trespass; and that Nevada's Open Range statute excuses his trespass. The court noted that, under the Supremacy Clause, the state statute in conflict would be trumped by federal law requiring permits to graze.
After nearly two decades of litigation and Bundy's alleged lack of compliance with the court rulings, the U.S. government filed a complaint on May 14, 2012, requesting injunctive relief to prevent Bundy's alleged unauthorized and unlawful grazing of livestock on federal land administered by the Secretary of Interior, BLM, and National Park Service along with a request for trespass damages. Bundy opposed the motions, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction because the United States does not own the public lands in question, but the court found that the public interest is best served by having the federal lands managed without the presence of trespassing cattle on lands that are closed to grazing and that the public interest would also best be served by removal of trespassing cattle that cause harm to natural and cultural resources or pose a threat to the health and safety of members of the public who use federal lands for recreation.
On July 9, 2013, U.S. District Judge Lloyd George ordered that Bundy be permanently enjoined from trespassing on the federal lands in question and ordered that Bundy remove his livestock within 45 days of the order. Judge Lloyd also ruled that the federal government is entitled to protect the lands against Bundy's trespass and authorized the BLM to seize and remove to impound any of Bundy's cattle that remained in trespass after the 45-day deadline after providing Bundy with proper notice.
Bundy, a father of 14, told the Las Vegas Review Journal that he would do "whatever it takes" to defend his cattle from seizure and said, "I've got to protect my property. If people come to monkey with what's mine, I'll call the county sheriff. If that don't work, I'll gather my friends and kids, and we'll try to stop it. I abide by all state laws. But I abide by almost zero federal laws." He acknowledged that he keeps firearms at his ranch, located about 90 minutes north of Las Vegas. These and other statements by Bundy were tantamount to threats, say federal officials, and agents in the area were advised to take safety precautions. "He has been running more than 900 cattle while he only has the authority to graze 150," said a BLM spokeswoman in southern Nevada. "He has also made a number of inflammatory statements, saying that he will do what he needs to do to protect his livestock. When such threats are made, the federal government has the responsibility to protect public safety."
The BLM Roundup & Cattle Seizure
On April 5, 2014, the BLM Southern Nevada District Office and the National Park Service (NPS) Lake Mead National Recreation Area began removing Bundy's cattle that, the agencies said in a public statement, "have been grazing illegally on public land in Clark County for more than 20 years." Federal officials said they had made repeated attempts to resolve the matter administratively and judicially but were now implementing two Federal District court orders to remove the cattle and would be working with local, state, and federal officials to ensure that the removal occurred in a safe and orderly manner. The BLM and NPS put into effect temporary closures to some publicly accessible land to ensure the public safety and that of federal personnel involved in the roundup and impoundment of Bundy's livestock. The agencies also designated two areas for those "wishing to express their freedom of speech," which were subsequently dismantled as the dispute widened. While federal law enforcement agents moved in and set up temporary pens to house the cattle to be gathered and helicopters arrived to assist with the roundup, Bundy supporters, some heavily armed, camped on the road leading to the Bundy ranch. Some held signs reading: "Americans united against government thugs." At one point, the large crowd blocked traffic on Interstate 15.
The Pot Boils Over
On April 9, a clash between angry protesters and BLM rangers involved Bundy's sister and his 37-year-old son, Dave Bundy, who was arrested after "failure to comply with multiple requests by BLM law enforcement to leave the temporary closure area on public lands." Dave Bundy was released from jail after being charged with misdemeanors including resisting arrest and refusal to disperse. During the arrest, Dave Bundy was reportedly tased by law enforcement personnel.
On April 10, BLM officials said the agency was making some adjustments in its approach. "We're allowing people to congregate on public land as long as they don't inhibit the operation," said a spokesman. Meanwhile, the Bundy family and its supporters established their own rally area on private property along a state highway in the area. Militia group members from as far away as California, Idaho, Utah, and Montana began converging on the Bunkerville area to rally behind the Bundys. Robert Richardson, owner and author of Off Grid Survival, said that as many as 5,000 were expected, and Bundy family members began warning that the tense standoff with federal law enforcement agents could escalate into a confrontation similar to those at Ruby Ridge and Waco.
On April 11, the Federal Aviation Administration established a no-fly zone over the Bundy ranch based on concerns that the situation was on the verge of a shoot-out.
Cooler Heads Prevail
On April 12, BLM director Neil Kornze announced that the agency would cease operations, saying: "As we have said from the beginning of the gather to remove illegal cattle from federal land consistent with court orders, a safe and peaceful operation is our number one priority. After one week, we have made progress in enforcing two recent court orders to remove the trespass cattle from public lands that belong to all Americans. Based on information about conditions on the ground and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public. We ask that all parties in the area remain peaceful and law-abiding as the BLM and NPS work to end the operation in an orderly manner." Kornze reiterated that Bundy owes the federal government about $1 million in grazing fees and that Bundy continues to graze his cattle illegally. Kornze said the BLM will "continue to work to resolve the matter administratively and judicially." There was no comment from the agency if it would release the cattle already seized.
Editor's Note: The story about Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management is unfolding at press time. We will continue coverage next week with the latest developments. LG
Reports from U.S. government statisticians and various insider commodity companies were released last week with news that kind of stalls things out for a little bit on the future of agriculture. It's unusual, really, to have government statisticians come across with news that's very encouraging. Usually the government news is more of a discouragement to private industry, and this probably is the way it should be.
The data that has been issued to the American public and its industries from the government in recent years has been quite faulty - almost, in fact, to the point of being opposite as to the actual position we might be in. I'm concerned that much of this kind of data as it has to do with money is probably pretty real.
The real big problem, I think, is that much of the industry problems could be blamed on the weather. I know there are a lot of 'weather-nuts' who are all saying that the problems we're having -- with drought or with too much rain or with any of the extreme weather conditions -- all have to do with the environment, too much carbon dioxide in the air, and we have to change all this they say. Well, I'm not sure about that.
Mother Nature's dominance is pretty real and always has been, and I don't think that we can count on Mother Nature changing her way of doing business at all. She's going to operate how she wants; whether it's heat or rain or tornados or terrible blizzards or floods, she'll do her thing when she wants to, which makes it quite unpredictable year in and year out.
Weather forecasters, however, seem to be on top of the situation pretty good as it has to do with moisture and temperature, and probably most people in agriculture are limited to that kind of data. If it's influential data and pretty well put, it's meaningful, and ranchers and farmers and those who handle commodities can count on some of this, probably, in their buying and selling and planning formulas.
On a different subject, I for one am concerned about President Obama's work with Russia and Putin. I wonder what kind of agreements went on in that meeting because now, in trying to put together a budget that would be political ammunition for him, it looks like he's pushing for the United States to cut the number of U.S. submarine- and bomber-launched nuclear weapons under this treaty that he has so-called put together with Russia. What in the world are we doing making a treaty to reduce our ability to protect America with a country that really has, for many years, entertained the idea that they'd like to take us over? They also want to take the Mideast over. They're proving that by invading their neighbors and trying to control them and their seaports.
I think the Congress that's coming back to work this next session has got to look at the idea of self preservation. The House, the Senate, and our President have got to follow the rules at hand for the them, and the first important priority is to protect America. If they forget that, we, the American people, must not accept it. I don't think most of the senators and representatives who are thinkers with some common sense are going to operate any different. There are too many millions of people who hate us, who are jealous of us, who would like to eliminate us, and we can't give them an opening.
We cannot become weaker. As we become weaker in our military, we're asking for big problems. This cannot happen. You as a voter have got to get hold of your senators and representatives and pour it on. First off, the Patriot Act has to be upheld: we protect America and the American people. That's number one. There is no other real number one. Don't forget that. If you see things out of line by your Senator or your Representative in Congress, get all over them, and I mean right now. Don't just talk; get after them. The Patriot Act has to be enforced every minute, every hour, every day, every month, every year. It has to be defended at all costs. I'm a great believer in protection, and the best protection we can have for our freedoms here in America is a strong military force. It cannot be weakened. It cannot be substituted with words. It must be backed up by strength and power.
If these countries who hate America believe that we've got the want to and the wherewithal to annihilate them and to put them out of business forever, they will be more cautious about taking us on. They have to know that we will, at all costs, protect this country and its borders and its people.
Have a good summer. Look at the weather reports we had last week in the paper. Make your judgments and your calls accordingly. If you've got a good herd of cows, in western America especially, you are going to grow a lot of grass and feed, and you're going to be able to sell some good, heavy lambs and yearlings and calves, and it's going to be a great year. The rest is up to you. Run your ranch, make good decisions, and get them done on time!
Montana Judge rejects effort to classify bison as livestock...
Montana District Judge John McKeon has rejected a plan to classify bison as livestock instead of wildlife under Montana state law, which would have transferred jurisdiction over quarantined bison from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks to the Montana Department of Livestock. The ruling is the latest action in a lawsuit filed in 2013 by Citizens for Balanced Use that sought to halt a plan that would transfer a group of bison from a quarantine facility near Yellowstone National Park to the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Reservations in northeast and north-central Montana.
A Montana district court issued a preliminary injunction that halted the planned transfer, but conservationists appealed the injunction decision to the Montana Supreme Court, which overturned the decision in a ruling issued in June 2013.
SD beef plant's future unclear...
Finalization of the bankruptcy sale of the former Northern Beef Packers in Aberdeen, SD, has revealed few answers about the plant's future, but one matter has been settled. The plant now has a different name: New Angus.
Last December, White Oak Financial Advisors purchased the plant at a court-ordered bankruptcy sale. White Oak has also paid more than a million dollars in delinquent property taxes to Brown County, including interest. County officials say the money will be used by the county to make payments to tax increment finance bondholders that were due in December. Brown County voters approved a tax increment finance (TIF) district to help fund construction of the plant, and under the TIF, a portion of the property taxes generated by new development is used to pay for certain improvements on the property. Officials say that they expect New Angus to eventually become a beef processing plant, but White Oak representatives aren't offering any details. A press release issued on White Oak's behalf says the company is evaluating strategic options and "remains confident in the facility's future as an operating plant."
Busted: Texas cattle theft ring...
Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers' Special Rangers arrested a fifth suspect on April 4 in a northeast Texas cattle theft ring that allegedly operated in Delta and Fannin counties in March 2014. Charles Damon Williams, 35, of Cooper, TX, was arrested last week. Previously arrested were Jonathan Jones, 20, of Cooper; John Green, 43, of Klondike, TX; James Shaffer, 60, of Terrell, TX; and Terry Wynne, 51, of Terrell, TX. Authorities say that, on March 18, law enforcement officials in Delta County received a call from a neighbor, who witnessed a suspicious vehicle and trailer leaving one of the victims' property. The witness was able to obtain a license plant number, which led authorities to the suspects. As many as 26 head of cattle were stolen from five victims in Delta County and 10 head from two victims in Fannin County. Rangers were able to recover 32 of 36 head and return them to their proper owners. The investigation continues, and authorities say they expect more arrests.
Veterinarian Hall of Fame nominees announced...
Voting is underway for the 2014 Cattle Production Veterinarian Hall of Fame, which honors individuals who have made lasting contributions to the veterinary profession and played leading roles throughout their careers in preventive health medicine, ag policy, rotation grazing, bovine reproduction, and milk quality. This year's beef nominees are as follows: Dave Bechto, DVM, Canyon, TX; Dallas Horton, DVM, Eaton, CO; and Ed Johnson, DVM, Parma, ID. This year's dairy nominees are as follows: John Dahl, DVM, Waunakee, WI, and Maarten Drost, DVM, Davis, CA.
Voting will remain open until August 5. Members of the Academy of Veterinary Consultants and the American Association of Bovine Practitioners may vote for one beef and one dairy nominee. The 2014 Hall of Fame inductees will be honored at this year's American Association of Bovine Practitioners' annual conference in Albuquerque, NM, September 18 - 20.
EPA awards over $9 million for research...
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded more than $9 million in research grants to Arizona State University and the University of California-Santa Barbara to study the impacts of chemicals and nano-materials on human health and the environment. "This research will advance the science of chemical life cycle assessments and provide tools to design safer chemicals, while enabling a healthy economy and safer society," said an EPA spokesman for the agency's office of research and development. The University of California-Santa Barbara's research will develop an online tool to evaluate life cycle impacts of chemicals which industry, academia, and other decision-makers can use to make more informed decisions about chemical and product design. Arizona State University's research will evaluate trade-offs between using nano-materials to improve the functionality of consumer products and the potential risks to humans and the environment. (Nano-materials are any materials with an average particle size of between 1 and 100 nanometers.)
Lawmakers question FDA proposed rule governing brewers' grains...
A group of legislators say that the Food & Drug Administration's (FDA) proposed rules governing brewers' grains used for animal feed are onerous and limit sustainable practices and that they're pushing legislation that would amend the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act accordingly. The FDA's proposed requirements would add oversight to brewers' handling, packaging, processing, or storage of spent grains for animal feed would drive up costs, the lawmakers say, and would leave breweries with no choice but to dispose of spent grains in landfills.
Sponsors of the legislation are Cory Gardner (R-CO), Steve Womack (R-AR), Peter Welsch (D-VT), and Chellie Pingree (D-MD). The group released a joint statement regarding the bill, calling the brewers' grains rules a solution in search of a problem. "The last thing breweries and farmers across the country need is the federal government interjecting itself into the environmentally-sound, centuries-old practice of breweries selling or donating their spent grains to farmers for use as a food for animals, especially when there is no indication that this practice poses any sort of risk to our food supply," they said. "The federal government should be praising this type of collaboration, not burdening it with onerous new regulatory requirements that drive up costs and discourage sustainable disposal practices. With this bill, common sense prevails, and our breweries, farmers, and the environment will be better off because of it."
Klamath Water Update...
Tribes approve Agreement in close vote
By Erika Bentsen
The Klamath tribes have approved the Upper Klamath Basin Proposed Settlement, but it was by a narrow margin of 564 in favor and 419 opposed. Tribal members complained they weren't given enough time to read the document. They argued that they are being forced to give away their heritage, the water. The $45 million for becoming "self-sufficient," the $26 million dollar tree farm, the removal of the energy-producing dams on the Klamath river, the management decisions on privately-owned riparian land along the rivers, and the job training programs just aren't enough of a trade. Many believe the water is worth billions, not millions. Even though Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) promises to come through this time with the Congressional funding required for the settlement to proceed, many in the tribes doubt that he will get results and that, even if he does, "it won't last very long." Additionally, many strong feelings are being aired that the chief counsel is working deals for personal gain that the majority of tribal members will never see.
The ranching community has until April 18 (Good Friday) to decide whether or not to sign the agreement. Even if this settlement is passed by the ranchers as well, the question remains how many times this water will have to be repurchased from the tribes. Regardless of assurances in the document this is a once-and-for-all agreement, many still remember that, when the tribes voted to free themselves from the tyrannical control of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1954 and become independent citizens, they were far more unified in their "forever" decision, and yet, even after repeated payments, future generations eventually overturned that promise.
MT livestock groups express dismay at BOL's budget
On February 19, four Montana ag groups - the Montana Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF), Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA), Montana Woolgrowers Association (MWGA), and Montana Association of Livestock Auction Markets (MALAM) - sent a letter to the Montana Board of Livestock (BOL) regarding its budget issues. The organizations' comments were not even addressed or considered at the recent BOL/DOL meeting. "We understand that the BOL/DOL is planning to again raise the brand inspection fees by 25 cents per head, and in all likelihood, (it is planning to) raise the per capita by the maximum again this fall. We have supported these increases in the past and feel the DOL needs this support," noted Bob Hanson, president, MFBF; Tucker Hughes, president, MSGA; Brent Roeder, secretary/ treasurer, MWGA; and Bill Cook, president, MALAM, in the letter to the BOL. "However, given the current budget situation in the DOL, we have concerns."
In the letter, the association made the following comments:
They agreed the priorities for spending earmarked for review should be brand enforcement, animal health, and predator control. However, they did say they would NOT support another increase in brand inspection fees for programs other than the Brands Division; nor do they support supplementing any programs by transferring per capita money from Brands to any other division requiring a brand fee increase.
They asked for strategic plans from BOL/DOL relating to operation of the above-mentioned programs as well as the Animal Diagnostic Lab. They also asked how BOL intends to deal with the current issue about the failure to invest re-recorded funds and make up the associated deficit.
Bob Hanson, president MFBF, said, "I am deeply disappointed that the BOL at its meeting in Helena earlier this week didn't even discuss the very serious concerns raised by the leaders of Montana's livestock organizations. This suggests to us that they aren't in tune with the very folks they are supposed to represent. That needs to change."
- March 21, 2014
Klamath Water: Drought Wells Denied
By Erika Bentsen
Some Oregon emergency drought wells are being denied use in Klamath County because of "groundwater declines of 20 feet or more." According to the 2007-5050 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report, prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Department of the Interior and Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD), "Since 2001, groundwater use in the upper Klamath Basin has increased by about 50%. Much of this increase has occurred in the area in and around the Bureau of Reclamation Klamath Project, roughly tripling groundwater pumping in that area. This focused increase in pumping has resulted in groundwater level declines in the pumped aquifer in excess of 10 to 15 feet over a large part of the Project between 2001 and 2004. Historical water-level data suggest that the water table should recover from recent declines if pumping is reduced to pre-2001 rates." (USGS pg. 2)
(Please note: The "upper Klamath Basin" in the USGS report covers 8,000 square miles in Oregon and California. Locally, and for the purpose of various pending agreements and settlements, "Upper Klamath Basin" and "upper Basin ranchers" are located on the northernmost section of the USGS study area and above. "Project" areas, which are on both sides of the Oregon-California border, are referred to as the "Lower Klamath Basin.")
An obvious and simple fix to this problem would be to revoke these new junior water rights that are overtaxing the groundwater supply and continue with the pre-2001 water deliveries. Why isn't this being done? Because, as summarized in the report, "The demand for water has increased in recent years in the upper Klamath Basin owing to changes in water management resulting from endangered species issues." (USGS pg. 64)
In modern America, the government program, being more important than the private citizen, supercedes standard water-use's First in Time, First in Line regulation. This was before the new, exorbitant tribal claims trumped all.
Unprecedented wells for unprecedented needs...
In 2001, drought hit southern Oregon and northern California hard. Water shut-offs for endangered species halted irrigation on the 190,000-acre project farms along both sides of the border of Oregon and California. California's Governor Gray Davis responded by declaring the "worst drought in the Tulelake basin since 1907" an "extreme economic peril," estimated at $73 million (water.ca.gov/newsreleases). California's water policy is, essentially, that whoever pokes a hole in the ground gets the water. DWR, in cooperation with the Governor's Office of Emergency Services and the Tulelake Irrigation District (TID), went right to work, planning to drill four wells in Siskiyou and ten wells in Modoc Counties to provide water for topsoil-saving cover crops on about 20,000 acres.
Importing huge drilling rigs and working around the clock, 24" diameter holes -- some boring a half a mile underground -- began opening up the water from the depths at a cost of $400,000 per well. DWR reported that, "By late August, every one of the nine of ten wells tested far exceeded the original expected capacity of 2,000 gallons per minute (gpm). The wells ranged from 4,000 gpm to 12,000 gpm. The average well was 8,500 gpm. The total capacity could exceed 80,000 gpm when the last well is completed. That would quadruple the initial goal of 20,000 gpm. The newly discovered aquifers are very deep. Well depths range from 571 feet at Well #14 to 2,380 feet at Well #6. Most are over 1,500 feet. Wells of such water capacity and depth have challenged DWR to find pumps to fit the wells. Well #1 near Hill and Kandra Roads in Tulelake, drilled to 743 feet, initially gushed 9,300 gpm. Its current pump has a maximum capacity of 6,600 gpm. In recent weeks, Well #2 (not drilled in numerical order), drilled to 1,550 feet, tested at 12,000 gpm. Many wells are awaiting arrival of permanent pumps. DWR is continually testing for water quality and draw-down on 40 neighboring wells. The Tulelake Irrigation District (TID) will irrigate 20,000 acres of soil-conserving cover crops and will decide which acreage served by the wells will receive water." (water.ca.gov/newsreleases)
A problem with California's fix is that these wells were punched right on the Oregon border, some only a matter of feet away. Below-ground aquifers don't stop along state boundaries. Neither does the groundwater decline with such an enormous withdraw rate.
Subsidence began occurring soon after these monstrous wells started depleting ancient aquifers. The wells were drilled so deep that they tapped into aquifers that trapped water millennia ago... so deep, in fact, that they are shut off from the surface water ecosystem and are not recharged. Geologists term this as "mining" water. As the water is removed from this type of aquifer, with no way to recover, the formation eventually collapses. As settling occurs far beneath the land surface, well heads that started out at ground level are starting to stick up in the air.
For now, it's a big win for California, until the resource is completely destroyed. Unfortunately, Oregon farmers above the border on the Klamath Project and ranchers far to the north in the upper Klamath Basin are being penalized by OWRD as if they were responsible for depleting the groundwater resource. As more drought wells in Oregon are being denied, many feel OWRD's efforts would be better spent protecting its resources from being mined by other states. In this instance, the state of California has been taking a rare, proactive approach to drought. Had state boundaries not been crossed by interference, it should have remained the state's own issue.