ELKO — The Cowboy Express/Grass March has made its most important stop on its coast-to-coast journey via horseback.
The group rode into Washington, D.C., early Thursday morning, right on schedule. The 2,800-mile trip began Sept. 26 in Bodega Bay, California, and will continue to the Atlantic Ocean today.
The Cowboy Express/Grass March riders carried with them various petitions arguing against government over-regulation of federal lands. The ranching families of Tomera and Filippini in Battle Mountain are protesting the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to temporarily close grazing on areas of the Argenta Allotment due to severe drought.
Pete and Dan Tomera flew east to join the riders on the last leg of the journey to Washington, D.C. They also rode from Carson City to Elko with the group.
They said thousands of people watched as they rode to the Capitol, some chanting “Take our government back!” Pete Tomera said.
People were friendly, he said, and seemed to understand the issue when he spoke with them.
Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber, who spearheaded the march, said the group rode down Constitution Avenue to a staging area near the Capitol building.
“We were able to accomplish what we intended, so we’re happy,” Gerber said. “... We believe it was a successful venture.”
Media coverage in Washington focused on traffic delays and confusion as the Cowboy Express/Grass March rode down the streets. Law enforcement escorted the riders through the Capitol.
At the Capitol, the Cowboy Express/Grass March met with representatives from five congressional offices and two senate offices, Gerber said. U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, also attended, he said.
“There were a lot of good conversations on what the problems were and how Congress expects to fix them,” Gerber said.
The group delivered the petitions to the congressional offices, including those of Rep. Mark Amodei and Sen. Dean Heller.
Dan Tomera said Amodei’s representatives spoke with them, and his office seems to back their cause and supports the group in the Capitol. He said the office is trying to get a hearing to investigate the Battle Mountain BLM district and see why they are particularly controlling of the public lands.
“I think it’s been successful in that it brought awareness to the issues we’re dealing with,” Dan Tomera said.
Along the journey across the country, several counties in western Kansas provided documents related to land restrictions prompted by declines in the lesser prairie chicken population. The bird issue in Kansas is similar to the sage grouse problem in the West.
“Our government is shutting everybody down,” Pete Tomera said, and he’s worried the government will eventually shut down farms and ranches.
Pete Tomera was also angry about the decisions of Doug Furtado, the BLM Battle Mountain District manager. Pete Tomera said Furtado is costing the area millions by requiring animal forage shortages.
“It’s not just the Tomeras and Filippinis … he’s hurting everyone in the Battle Mountain district,” Pete Tomera said.
Gerber reported the horses and the riders are still in good shape, although everyone is exhausted at the end of the day. Gerber himself was injured when his horse tripped and fell, but he said he is feeling better with each day.
“I was especially pleased with the organization and leadership of Jess Jones and Katie Jones in getting us across the country,” he said. The two coordinated stopping points, places to stay and other necessary operations during the ride.
“It was a goal we thought was necessary and we accomplished it. And we believe we got the response we hoped for,” Gerber said.