Battle Mountain Grazing Settlement Sows Seeds of Discord
Rancher Rewarded for Defiant Trespass as BLM Avoids Enforcement at All Costs
Washington, DC — Illegal livestock grazing on drought-stricken northern Nevada rangeland has now received Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approval, according to a settlement the agency reached with the ranchers. Western Watersheds Project and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) criticized the deal as encouraging more rogue grazing, and they have asked Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to instead support closure decisions made by BLM district managers to protect public lands.
This week’s settlement agreement is the latest in the long-running dispute over drought closures in Battle Mountain, Nevada. The dry conditions prompted the BLM to close two grazing allotments (North Buffalo and Copper Canyon) in May 2013. Shortly thereafter, ranchers Dan and Eddyann Filippini appealed the closure decision, which was ultimately upheld by an Administrative Law Judge in the Department of Interior’s Office of Hearings and Appeals. Dissatisfied with the continued drought protective measures in place on these public lands, the ranchers escalated the situation last week by releasing livestock onto the North Buffalo allotment and publicly daring the BLM to act.
Rather than move to get the trespassing cows off, BLM acted quickly to reach a deal with the ranchers. In the settlement agreement dated June 5, 2015, the ranchers are allowed to leave their cattle on the disputed lands, but the Filippinis agree that they have committed a “willful” grazing trespass and will pay an enhanced grazing fee only for the period that their cattle were illegally turned out. The agreement also specifies that the ranchers will dismiss further litigation in the case.
The North Buffalo allotment is a 100,768 acre allotment which is a checkerboard mix of 55% public lands and 45% private lands and has no internal fencing to keep livestock off of public lands. The allotment also contains priority Greater Sage-grouse habitat as defined by the recently released Nevada and Northeastern California Greater Sage-Grouse Proposed Land Use Plan Amendment and Final Environmental Impact Statement.
“Just two weeks after the new Greater Sage-grouse land use plans were released, the BLM once again shows us how little commitment they have to protecting important land and wildlife habitat when pressured by industry,” said Ken Cole, Western Watersheds Project’s Idaho Director. “What good are the new plans if the agencies cave in to every whim of the ranchers?”
“These stretches of desert were closed because they are suffering from longstanding drought on top of decades of grazing abuse,” stated PEER Advocacy Director Kirsten Stade, pointing to satellite imagery showing clearly visible effects of overgrazing but noting that these lands at issue here have never undergone legally required official assessment of their ecological health. “The livestock industry enjoys heavily subsidized grazing privileges but acts as if it has an entitlement to the public’s lands.”
After last year’s Bundy debacle, local BLM managers in Nevada are under pressure from above to resolve any resource disputes regardless of the terms or the long-term effects on the health of the public lands. The groups today sent Interior Secretary Sally Jewell a letter asking her to support local BLM enforcement decisions and to develop an effective range enforcement strategy, rather than backing down like the agency did in the case of Cliven Bundy, or reaching new agreements with lawless ranchers, as they have now done at Battle Mountain.
In response to a request from U.S. Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, the Government Accountability Office is undertaking a review of the effectiveness of federal policies and practices “to detect and deter unauthorized livestock grazing on public range lands” in the words of a recent letter confirming the investigation.