Furtado’s decision leaves those families scrambling for alternative pasture for their cattle and facing financial ruin.
Within hours of the vote by the Lander commission, the Elko County Commission joined the cause with a vote of support for their neighboring commissioners. Both sets of commissioners also voted to put Saturday’s Grass Tour of the allotment south of Battle Mountain on their respective agendas so they can legally attend the event. Several state and federal representatives also have indicated they plan to attend.
The tour is being hosted by the Pete and Lynn Tomera family and will begin at their ranch at 9 a.m. Access to the ranch is on a road immediately south of the Interstate 80 overpass for the Austin highway that will be marked with signs. A carpooling operation will be conducted at the ranch in an effort to reduce the traffic flow in the narrow canyons of the allotment. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended.
The Grass Tour is being organized in an effort to combat the decision by BLM’s Furtado to close the allotment to grazing this season. Furtado cited drought conditions for the closure, but the Tomeras counter the area has received abundant rain over the past four months and there is plenty of grass for their cattle. They invite everyone interested to come Saturday and see for themselves.
John Carpenter, a former rancher and state assemblyman and current candidate for the Elko County Commission, said he has been working with the Tomeras to try to get them some relief from the BLM closure and prevent them from being driven out of business. He said he went out last week with a private consultant and the allotment looked great. He added the range specialist gathered information and will have his findings ready to report at Saturday’s Grass Tour.
The Argenta Allotment surrounds Mount Lewis south of Battle Mountain and is bordered on the west by the Austin highway and the east by the Crescent Valley Highway. The closure affects several separate families of the extended Tomera and Filippini families.
Pete Tomera prepared the accompanying map and explained that only about half of the allotment is publicly owned and managed by the BLM (shaded orange). The rest is privately owned. His family has purchased a big chunk of land (shaded red) and most of the rest (shaded purple) was the old checkerboard railroad land that the Tomeras lease. The white sections are owned by various other private interests.
The allotment encompasses about 365,000 acres, so the BLM decision closing the allotment to grazing arbitrarily shuts down more than 150,000 acres of privately held land.
On top of that, Tomera added, he owns all the water in the allotment. He pored over the map of the allotment and counted 89 springs (blue circles on the map) and 185 miles of creeks (blue lines).
Tomera also said he has made significant concessions in light of the drought of the past three years. He agreed to reduce his grazing by 8,000 AUMs (animal unit months, or the amount of forage consumed by one cow in a month) last year. That voluntary non-use of the allotment required him to bring his cattle back onto private pastures earlier last year. Consequently, his private pasture was exhausted earlier than usual and he had to purchase additional hay at a cost of $250,000.
Then the BLM recommended he build 16 miles of fence to separate his private land from the BLM-controlled land of the allotment. That project cost his family another $81,000.
On Feb. 19, the Tomeras went into the Battle Mountain BLM office and had a three-hour meeting with their range conservationist to develop a co-operative plan for the coming grazing season. At that meeting, the Tomeras agreed to a reduction of 11,000 AUMS, which represents a cut of 1,375 cows for the eight-month grazing season. The plan would mean he once again would have to bring his cows home early this fall and again buy hay. The decision would hurt, Tomera explained, but he thought his family could survive.
He added his BLM range conservationist also seemed happy with the plan, but an hour later the BLM staffer called to say “management” had rejected their grazing plan.
The next day, the Tomeras and the rest of the ranchers with grazing rights in the allotment went back to Battle Mountain to meet directly with BLM Director Furtado. At that meeting, Lynn Tomera said, Furtado announced that he would not allow any grazing at all on the mountain allotment this year.
Days later, the Tomeras report, they received a letter dated Feb. 24 from Furtado asking ranchers to “apply for the appropriate amount of voluntary non-use.” Furtado’s letter continued, “I have instructed my staff to work with you to develop voluntary drought management agreements …”
The letter really frustrated Tomera.
“Lynn and I spent an entire afternoon working with his staff to come up with an appropriate level of ‘voluntary non-use’ and he rejected it out of hand. I have worked hard my entire life to get along with the BLM and I have never been cited for trespass,” the rancher proclaimed. “But then one man with some sort of vendetta comes in and, with a snap of his fingers, he makes a decision that can ruin the lives of my family. It’s terrible.”
Tomera has been selling cows all year long to get down to the numbers that would have satisfied his “voluntary” reduction in AUMs. But he still has around 1,800 cows and their calves on private pasture and they will be out of feed by June 1.
“What am I supposed to do?” he asked.
Elko attorney Travis Gerber questions the BLM contention the allotment has been over-grazed. He said the BLM reduced grazing levels on the allotment by 50 percent in the 1960s. On top of that, the Tomeras reduced their grazing by 8,000 AUMs last year and the plan the BLM rejected in February called for a reduction of another 11,000 AUMs.
Gerber explained ranchers like the Tomeras purchased grazing rights with a set number of AUMS on BLM-managed allotments when they purchased the deeded portions of their ranches.
“Now the BLM comes in and reduces the number of AUMS, or closes the allotment completely, and calls what has been the historic level of grazing ‘illegal.’ That’s like giving a police officer the power to arbitrarily change speed limits and then cite drivers following the historic speed limits for illegal driving.” Gerber said.
He added, “The BLM has eliminated 53 ranchers from Clark County. Cliven Bundy was the last rancher and he refused to leave. The media has not told the whole story. The grazing that was historically a right has now been eliminated by the government and declared ‘illegal.’
“They’ve destroyed all the ranchers in Clark County. Now they are setting their sights on northern Nevada. We have to stop them.”
His father, Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber, added that in addition to the human toll of Furtado’s decision and its economic impact on Lander County, there is an extreme danger of wildfires that will wipe out the abundant wildlife in the area.
“With all the rain we’ve had the last four months, those mountains will be a tinderbox if the grass is not grazed off. Think of all the sage grouse, deer and other animals that will be killed when that mountain burns,” Grant Gerber said.
He also explained that when an allotment burns, the BLM typically closes it to grazing for three years. He said that procedure sets up a perfect storm for wildfires.
“Three years of accumulated, dry grass and our region’s typical late summer lightning storms — the combination is like a game of Russian roulette. And when the allotment does burn again, it’s closed for another three years. It’s a disastrous cycle that the BLM is setting in motion.”
Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl added, “The problems created by the BLM in Battle Mountain are typical of many of the problems created by the federal agencies throughout the West and emphasize the importance of transferring the public lands from the federal government to the states.”