This past week the Elko County Commission voted to send a letter to Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze, an Elko native and former Harry Reid aide, inviting him to come to Nevada and discuss his agency’s recent decisions that have harmed the profitability of ranches across the state.
With the state in the third year of drought, the number of cattle allowed on the federally controlled open range has been cut drastically — in some cases cattle have been banned entirely.
Two ranchers told the Elko commissioners about the problems they are having.
Eddie Ann Filippini, who with her husband Daniel holds a grazing permit in the Battle Mountain area, said the BLM has ordered her ranch to remove all cattle from public lands for the duration of the drought and for a full growing season after the drought ends, whenever that might be. She said six other ranches in her area are facing similar orders.
“We are in an appeal process right now,” Flippini said. “We can’t comment on the status of our lawsuit, but it is to be heard before the land board.”
Commission Chairman Charlie Myers asked whether the appeal would be acted on before it is too late.
“Probably not,” Flippini replied. “My father-in-law was in a lawsuit a few years back and won it. And the BLM, they never let him go. And there’s people just like the Hages (who have been in court with the BLM for two generations) and everybody else, you win but you don’t win. They keep fighting you with your money and their money. The BLM works for us, and they should be working with us, not trying to kill us all. Period.
“This is a social-economic issue and it’s my life. … We are fifth generation Nevadan ranchers, and this is our life. I mean we are going to fight like hell to keep it.”
She noted that a late snow and rain could green up certain pastures and provide forage even though the whole region remains in a drought.
Commissioner Demar Dahl, also a rancher, observed that in the meantime the grass could dry up in the hot summer and burn, after which the BLM would require two years of rest for the grazing land.
Long-time rancher Hank Filippini told commissioners he objects to the BLM telling ranchers when and where to turn out cattle. “My family has run cattle since 1870,” he said. “We’ve never once hurt the resource. We know when to bring our cattle in. They don’t have to tell us when to bring our cattle in. … We don’t want a poor cow.”
Pete Tomera, another Battle Mountain area rancher, told commissioners he, like the others, is not being allowed to graze on the mountain area of his allotment, where he holds extensive water rights. He said he doesn’t know what he will do with his 600 head of cattle.
Tomera said the ranchers have always grazed cattle on the flat lands until the heat of the summer and then allowed them to graze on the hills, where half of the land is privately owned and all of the water rights are owned by ranchers, with those rights first established in 1862, two years before Nevada became a state.
“The federal lands are like a bundle of sticks,” Tomera explained. “Each one of these rights are separate from federal lands. There are mineral rights. There are easement rights. There are water rights. And there are grazing rights. All of these rights are bought and sold and are part of a ranch purchase price. There are private rights. When grazing rights are cut, it greatly reduces the value of the property.”
If the land on the steep hills is not grazed, Tomera warned, by the end of summer, when the lightning strikes occur, the fire “will burn, destroying all livestock, all habitat, all cattle, all the wildlife that they call their home. Erosion will become the next factor.”
We call on all elected officials to stand together with the Elko commissioners and demand accountability from the federal land agencies that are eroding the economic viability of our state. — TM