Nevada ranchers look to Gandhi rather than militiamen in multiday protest ride
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
RENO, Nev. — Unlike the militiamen who came with weapons to support southern Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy in his stand against federal land managers, ranchers in northern Nevada are taking a page out of Gandhi's book in their protest of livestock grazing reductions on U.S. lands.
Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber is the chief organizer of a 70-mile horseback trek beginning on Memorial Day that he calls the "Grass March."
He said the multiday ride from Elko to Battle Mountain is modeled after Gandhi's "Salt March" from Sabarmati to Dandi, India, that protested the British colonial monopoly on salt in 1930.
Gerber said the Salt March was the opening salvo in a series of non-violent acts of civil disobedience that garnered international sympathy and ultimately helped lead to India's independence.
Gerber, a lawyer who has represented dozens of plaintiffs in lawsuits against the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management over the past two decades, said federal agencies have the same stranglehold on Nevada land and grass as the British had on Indian salt supplies.
"The British government in India not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but was ruining India economically, politically, culturally and spiritually. The same thing is happening in Nevada," he said.
BLM officials say temporary reductions in some grazing allotments are necessary due to lingering drought.
"Much of the western United States and much of Nevada is experiencing severe to extreme drought conditions," the agency said in a statement issued from its state headquarters in Reno. "These conditions have stressed all resources on the public lands, making grazing throughout most of Nevada unsustainable at permitted levels."
The Nevadans' ride is the latest in a series of demonstrations since the federal government's run-in with Bundy about 75 miles northeast of Las Vegas. It comes at a time when land managers face a number of challenges acerbated by drought, ranging from wild-horse herds they say are overpopulated to the potential listing of the sage grouse as an endangered species.
Bundy and his supporters, some of them armed militia members, thwarted a BLM roundup of his cattle near Bunkerville in April. The BLM says he owes more than $1 million in fees and penalties for trespassing without a permit over 20 years, but he refuses to acknowledge federal authority on the arid lands where he says his family has run cattle for more than a century.
Two weeks ago, dozens of people rode their ATVs and motorcycles on an off-limits trail in southern Utah's Recapture Canyon in a protest against what they called the federal government's overreaching control of public lands.
Gerber said he and others — he's not sure how many — will ride 20 miles on Monday from Elko to Carlin, where Carlin Mayor Cliff Eklund has planned a variety of events at the rodeo grounds in support of the ranchers. Gerber said he plans to leave at sunrise and hopes to arrive by 1 p.m.
Then they will ride another 15 to 20 miles per day until they reach Battle Mountain. His sons and others will provide assistance at least part of the way from an old chuck wagon pulled by mules.
Along the way, they intend to gather signatures on a petition to present to Gov. Brian Sandoval urging the removal of the BLM's Battle Mountain District Manager Doug Furtado.
Gerber said Battle Mountain became the destination because it's the county seat in Lander County, where he said some of the most dramatic livestock grazing reductions are occurring. He said the BLM has ordered the closure of the Argenta allotment covering about 540 square miles in the county, about half of which is on federal land.
BLM spokeswoman Erica Szlosek says that's "not accurate" and the fate of the allotment remained uncertain.
"We could issue a decision to close it — a full force and effect decision — but that has not occurred," she told The Associated Press on Friday. "We've been meeting with the permittees on the Argenta allotment, but they still are talking back and forth. No final decision has been made."
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