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Lotspeich family grows ingenuity, innovation

DEETH — Innovation and ingenuity bred success for the ancestors of the Lotspeich family when they settled in Nevada more than 100 years ago, and today, a fifth generation continues to reinvent ranching in the high desert to survive in the modern West.

The Grock brothers emigrated from Prussia and Germany to the United States, where they acquired land at the foot of the East Humboldt mountain range partly through the Homestead Act of 1862. They settled before the turn of the century near the then-booming railroad town of Deeth on about 300 acres in the high desert. Because the acreage was not enough for a successful livestock operation, they adapted.

“They used the talents they already had and built a machine shop,” says Janice Collette, an Elko resident acting as a docent during a tour of the Lotspeich Family Farm as part of the 35th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering on Jan. 30. About 60 guests participated in the daylong tour.

“What does it have to do with ranching?” she asks. “It has everything to do with survival.”

The brothers supplemented ranch life with their machine shop. The metal-walled structure remains part of the family farm, owned by the founders’ great-grandson Dale Lotspeich and wife Leslie. Dale Lotspeich was a former sheriff of Elko County.

“They built a strong connection with a lot of the other industries and traditions out here that define the West,” says son Dan Lotspeich, a U.S. Military Academy graduate with geological and mechanical engineering degrees, who returned to the family business.

While the visitors mill around the workshop looking at tools such as a drill press, lathe and mill, Dan and Dale Lotspeich tell stories of how their predecessors drew schematics on the floor, played poker to win building materials, and scavenged for supplies from the railroad and even a World War II bomber that crashed nearby. The brothers also made brands for many of the historic ranches in the state and tested them on a workshop wall.

“They just adapted to whatever the need was,” Dale Lotspeich says.

The family continues to adapt, now growing produce in four hoop houses, while staying true to the ranch’s roots.

Leslie Lotspeich, a retired teacher and school administrator, is a Michigan native who brought a love for growing things when she moved to Elko County more than 30 years ago. Because Nevada’s harsh climate with low precipitation, extreme temperature fluctuations and wind created a challenge, they adapted.

“There’s got to be a way to grow more food here,” Leslie Lotspeich says, reflecting on Tuscarora ranchers bringing produce down from the mountains to sell in the city in the old mining days. “It’s just so darn tough to grow things in Elko County.”

The Lotspeiches built their first hoop house about five years ago, and the plastic-covered structure helped extend the growing season. Soon, the family was growing more food than they could consume, and they took the bounty to local markets. The demand for fresh, locally grown foods was so great, Leslie Lotspeich says, that veggies seemed to fly off the table with a whoosh.

Now, Lotspeich Family Farm has four hoop houses, with three measuring 30-by-96 feet. During the last growing season, they grew about 4,000 pounds of produce. One hoop house contained 500 tomato plants and just as many pepper plants, along with other nightshades.

“You can tell we decided to go big or go home,” Leslie Lotspeich says, standing in the center of one of the hoop houses, where she pulls back a row cover to reveal shoots of green emerging from the earth in midwinter.

Although snow and ice covered the ground outside, the humid air in the hoop house warms to about 60 degrees on the day of the tour. Farm guests sit on hay bales inside while listening to their host describes the building process, planting plans and pest management. She points out dormant artichoke stumps in a row closest to the visitors’ feet.

“We’ve grown a lot of things that we’ve said aren’t supposed to grow in this area,” she says. “Well, we do!”

Fruits and vegetables grown at the Lotspeich Family Farm appear at the Elko and Lamoille farmers markets, and some customers go to the ranch to pick up produce.

“I love that kind of ingenuity,” says Sugar Cheselka, visiting from Sacramento, California. “That’s what life is about — taking something small and making it more.”

For 2019, the Lotspeiches have planted 400 strawberry plants and have plans to grow more fruit, plus cut flowers.

“We’re really pleased about that and think it’s going to be a success,” Dan Lotspeich says.

He points out the original hoop house now replete with young strawberry plants as he balances on the back of a trailer that his dad pulls around the ranch with a tractor, taking the visitors on a hay ride. Below the gleaming, snow-covered East Humboldts, they soak in the sights of sheep and cattle, soaring red-tailed hawks, towering cottonwood trees, and white hoop houses with rounded tops.

“We’re a little different than the typical Nevada cowboy operation,” Dan Lotspeich says, “but we’re trying to embrace that.”

While constantly adapting, the family continues to honor the traditions of their ancestors and of ranching in the West.

“The Lotspeiches are again innovating,” Collette says. “They are rising to the occasion of innovating breeds success.”

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Ranchers whose case sparked standoff get grazing rights back

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The two Oregon ranchers whose conviction for intentionally setting fires on public land sparked a weeks-long standoff with anti-federal government protesters at a remote wildlife refuge have had their grazing rights restored.

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, in one of his last actions before resigning, ordered the renewal of a 10-year grazing permit for Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven Hammond, The Oregonian/OregonLive reports. The decision was dated Jan. 2, but it wasn’t sent out until this week.

“It’s been awhile in coming, but I’m happy to get our permit back,” Dwight Hammond Jr. said. “It is a relief.”

The Hammonds’ case was embraced by critics of federal land policy, who said local communities and states had too little control. But others, including environmentalists, said authorities were too accommodating of ranchers and other interests and urged the federal government to administer public lands for the widest possible uses.

Chris Saeger, executive director of Western Values Project, condemned the Hammonds’ permit renewal. Saeger said it sets a “dangerous precedent by conceding to known anti-public land factions that may endanger public lands, managing agencies and employees.”

“By allowing these lawbreaking extremists back on public lands, the Trump administration is sending the message that politics will always trump our American birthright,” Saeger said in a statement.

Last year President Donald Trump pardoned the Hammonds, whose case had prompted the armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016, led by two sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.

In February 2014, the federal government had rejected the Hammonds’ renewal application, citing their criminal convictions for setting fire to public land. Zinke ordered the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to renew the grazing permit through 2024.

“I find the pardons constitute unique and important changed circumstances since the BLM made its decision,” Zinke wrote in the decision.

Zinke announced his resignation late last year amid multiple investigations tied to his real estate dealings in Montana and conduct while in office.

The Hammonds had been convicted in 2012 of arson on land where they had grazing rights for their cattle. They were ordered back to prison in early 2016 to serve out five-year sentences in a case that incited right-wing militias and inspired the 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which abuts the Hammond family ranch.

But on July 10, 2018, Trump pardoned the father and son.

DOE secretly shipped plutonium to Nevada

RENO (AP) — The U.S. Department of Energy disclosed Wednesday that it has already shipped weapons-grade plutonium from South Carolina to a nuclear security site in Nevada despite the state’s protests.

The Justice Department notified a federal judge in Reno that the government trucked in half of the radioactive material that it intends to store at the site 70 miles north of Las Vegas. Nevada had filed a request for an injunction to block the move in November.

Department lawyers said in a nine-page filing that the previously classified information about the shipment from South Carolina can be disclosed now because enough time has passed to protect national security. They didn’t specify when the one-half metric ton of plutonium was transferred.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said he’s “beyond outraged by this completely unacceptable deception.” He said he’s working with Nevada’s congressional delegation to fight back against the U.S. government’s “reckless disregard” for the safety of Nevadans.

Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen called the move “deceitful and unethical,” and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, also a Nevada Democrat, said she would demand department officials come to her office on Thursday to explain how they made the “reckless decision” in such “bad faith.”

U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du in Reno is considering the state’s request for an injunction to block the Energy Department’s plans announced in August to ship a full metric ton of plutonium to Nevada from South Carolina, where a federal judge previously issued an order that the plutonium be removed from a Savannah River site by January 2020.

Nevada argues the DOE has failed to adequately study the potential dangers of moving the material to an area that is subject to flash floods and earthquakes, and that the state’s lands and groundwater may already be contaminated with radioactive materials.

The energy department defended its decision in court on Jan. 17. Its lawyers argued at the time it doesn’t have to disclose top-secret details of the shipment plans because of national security.

Du expressed sympathy at times for the state’s argument during the evidentiary hearing, but declined to immediately grant the state’s request and indicated she wouldn’t rule until February.

“I hope the government doesn’t ship plutonium pending a ruling by this court,” she said at the time.

Sisolak said Wednesday the energy department led the state to believe it was engaged in good-faith negotiations over the plutonium “only to reveal that those negotiations were a sham all along.”

“They lied to the state of Nevada, misled a federal court and jeopardized the safety of Nevada’s families and environment,” he said.

Monica Moazez, spokeswoman for the Nevada’s attorney general’s office, which is leading the legal fight, said in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday that the state didn’t immediately know what the next step would be in court.

Meanwhile, the states of Nevada and South Carolina are continuing to argue over where the legal challenge should be heard. Each said in briefs filed in Reno last week that theirs is the proper venue to argue over the fate of the plutonium.

Lawyers for South Carolina say the previous order issued in December 2017 directing that the metric ton of plutonium be removed by the end of this year makes it clear the South Carolina court retains jurisdiction.

“Nevada’s interests fail to outweigh South Carolina’s interest and substantial public interest in having the matter decided by the court already handling and most familiar with the facts and issues in the case,” they said in a filing last week.

A substantial part of the government’s efforts to remove the plutonium “have occurred and will occur in South Carolina,” John Desmond wrote on behalf of South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson.

Nevada’s lawyers countered that the disposal site isn’t located in South Carolina.

“The environmental impacts of the proposed action here will be almost entirely felt in Nevada,” they said.

Experts testifying on behalf of Nevada said the material likely would have to pass directly through Las Vegas on the way to the Nevada Nuclear National Security Site. They fear an accident could permanently harm an area that is home to 2.2 million residents and hosts more than 40 million tourists a year.

The Energy Department wants to temporarily store the material at the Nevada site and the government’s Pantex Plant in Texas, two facilities that already handle and process plutonium. The department says it would be sent by 2027 to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico or another unnamed facility.

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Kornze named CEO of public lands advocacy foundation

ELKO – Former Bureau of Land Management director and Elko resident Neil Kornze has been named CEO of Campion Advocacy Fund and the Campion Foundation, Seattle-based organizations that work to protect public lands and end homelessness.

“We could not be more thrilled to welcome Neil to Seattle and the Campion team,” said founding trustees Tom and Sonya Campion. “Our nation’s public lands and our most vulnerable communities are facing unprecedented threats. We’re up for the fight and we’re excited to have Neil’s leadership take our work to a new level of impact and leverage. Together, we will execute a bold vision into the future for wild places, people experiencing homelessness in our communities, and advocacy in the nonprofit sector.”

The Campion Foundation and Campion Advocacy Fund were established “to preserve the last remaining wild places across the West.” The fund reports it has directed substantial support to protect landscapes like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Tongass National Forest in Alaska, and the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness in Idaho.

Another focus is to end homelessness in Washington state and across the country. Campion has supported the establishment of the Washington State Office of Homeless Youth and the creation of innovative public-private partnerships to end youth homelessness, including A Way Home America and A Way Home Washington.

Kornze, who started as CEO at the beginning of January, brings extensive experience in public administration. From 2014 to 2017, he served in the Obama Administration as director of the Bureau of Land Management, the nation’s largest public lands agency. Prior to that, Kornze spent nearly a decade working as a policy adviser to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. After leaving the Obama Administration, he founded his own strategy firm to help clients protect land and wildlife, and focused on expanding the outdoor economy.

Raised in Elko, Kornze earned his undergraduate degree from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.

“I am proud to join the stellar team at the Campion Advocacy Fund and the Campion Foundation,” said Kornze. “The majestic land, water and wildlife that define us as a nation are under assault. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Americans lack a safe place to sleep, and the problem is getting worse in many communities. We will be working tirelessly to bring attention to these urgent issues and to support those who are fighting for change.”

Under Kornze’s leadership at the BLM, 55 million acres of public lands were protected to support the recovery of keys species such as the greater sage grouse and to preserve Native American sites. Kornze also led major reforms of energy programs, including halting federal coal sales, reducing emissions from oil and gas operations on public lands, and authorizing the largest wind and solar projects in North America.

The Campion Foundation was founded in 2005 by Tom and Sonya Campion following Tom’s success in co-founding and leading Zumiez, a Washington-based company that is the world’s largest action-sports retailer with 700 stores on three continents.