ELKO – The Bureau of Land Management says it didn’t give ranchers permission to graze on a closed allotment made up of public and private land, but instead indicated that it “would not interfere” with the cattle turnout.
The Battle Mountain Complex, an area near Valmy that comprises both the North Buffalo and Copper Canyon allotments, falls in “checkerboard” land. Grazing was closed there in a 2013 decision, according to Nevada BLM spokesman Rudy Evenson.
With fewer and fewer spots available to graze due to drought, Dan and Eddyann Filippini decided to run cattle Tuesday on North Buffalo while the closure is in appeal.
A vast majority of the Filippini's AUMs on the allotment are privately held.
Acting BLM State Director John Ruhs told Eddyann Filippini that the agency wouldn’t attempt to stop the ranchers, according to Evenson. Instead, Ruhs reminded permittees that the federal land was still off limits.
“We’re not going to come out there and have a big confrontation,” Evenson said.
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There aren’t fences, however, separating the land by ownership.
Former assemblyman and longtime rancher John Carpenter, who participated Tuesday to support the Filippinis, said whether the cows wander onto public lands shouldn’t be a problem.
“It’s not a resource issue because there’s plenty of grass,” he said. “There’s all kinds of grass there.”
The Nevada Cattlemen’s Association released a statement supporting the ranchers for reducing fuel on private land while recognizing the closure of public portions of the allotment.
“Permittees and the BLM are aggressively working to find a solution to the closed public land grazing areas in North Buffalo Allotment,” the association stated. “Until such time as an agreement is reached, permittees are aggressively working to keep cattle off of closed areas.”
The decision to return cows to the range, according to Evenson, throws a wrench in the process.
“It makes it harder for everyone to negotiate a settlement,” he said.
Carpenter said the process has taken too long.
“There’s more feed than you can believe,” he said. “I don’t understand why they won’t get things done.”
He worried a lightning storm could combust the range around North Buffalo.
Western Watersheds Project, an Idaho-based environmental group with a reputation for protesting grazing, called the Lander County ranchers “scofflaws” and evoked notorious Southern Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who grabbed headlines last year when federal agents attempted to round up trespassed cattle, resulting in an armed stand-off.
Western Watersheds argued that defiance of the rules gummed up “good faith negotiations” to find a solution on another closed allotment.
“The BLM is enabling this kind of behavior by coddling Nevada ranchers who are surely emboldened by the lack of law enforcement within the agency and the lack of a commitment on behalf of our government to protect the public trust,” Ken Cole, WWP Idaho Director, said in a statement.
Ranchers are worried that grazing closures will ruin their livelihoods.
The Filippinis are one of the permittees who ran cattle on the Argenta allotment, on which nine of 20 sections were also closed by the Battle Mountain District BLM because of ongoing drought.
About half the land and all the water rights on Argenta are privately owned.
Similarly, closures on the Argenta allotment have been appealed to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, discussions are ongoing to try to resolve that dispute outside of court.
Carpenter believes a few fences around riparian areas could solve a bulk of the dispute. He had organized a work party last month to build a fence, but cancelled it a few days later in order to allow the sides to reach an agreement.
According to Carpenter and the BLM, that discussion is still ongoing.
Updated June 9, 2015: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the vast majority of AUMs on the allotment were privately held. The AUMs held by the Filippinis' are a mainly private.