On Monday, May 26, Memorial Day, a group of Nevadans are planning what they are calling a Grass March — a 70-mile horseback trek from Elko to Battle Mountain to publicly protest and bring attention to the plight of ranchers who are methodically having their grazing rights on federal land stripped away by federal agencies.
The organizers are styling the “march” after Gandhi’s 1930 Salt Marchfrom Sabarmati to Dandi, India, to protest the British colonial monopoly on salt. The Salt March was the opening salvo in a series of non-violent acts of civil disobedience highlighting tyrannical British policies. It garnered worldwide public sympathy and helped lead to India’s independence.
March organizer Grant Gerber, an Elko County Commissioner and attorney, said the federal bureaucracy, particularly the Bureau of Land Management, has the same stranglehold on Nevada land and grass as the British had on Indian salt supplies.
“The British Government had a total monopoly on all salt,” Gerber noted. “A citizen of India was even prevented from distilling a little salt from ocean water for his family. All salt had to be bought from the British Government. In Nevada the federal government has a monopoly on Nevada land and the grass. The government owns 87 percent of the land, but also exercises total control over much of the private land as well. The effective control of the government exceeds 92 percent of the grass in Nevada.”
Gerber, along with his sons and Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, are inviting people to join in the Grass March to help raise awareness of the threat to ranchers, many of whom have worked the land for generations — some going back to prior to Nevada statehood.
Gerber will ride the first 20 miles from Elko to Carlin on Memorial Day. There, Carlin Mayor Cliff Eklund is planning various events at the rodeo grounds in support of the ranchers. On the 27th Gerber will continue the ride covering 15 to 20 miles per day, depending where he camps. His sons and others will provide assistance along with support at least part of the way from an old chuck wagon to be pulled by a team of white mules.
“We believe that it is the inalienable right of Nevadans to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil,” Gerber said. “We believe also that — since the agencies of the federal government are depriving Nevadans of their rights and oppressing them — the control of the federal lands must be transferred to the state of Nevada for the protection of the citizens of Nevada. If any government deprives a people of their rights and oppresses them, the people have a right to alter that government or abolish it. (A close paraphrase of the Declaration of Independence.) 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.”
The Grass March is partly in response to recent restrictions by the BLM on ranchers in Lander County who have for generations grazed cattle on Mount Lewis.
In 1964 the BLM forced the ranchers on Mount Lewis to cut their cattle and sheep grazing by 50 percent, even though half of the land was privately-owned, as are all of the water rights. The ranchers had been grazing their cattle on the mountain since 1862, two years before Nevada became a state.
In the 1980s the state of Nevada bought out the Tomera Ranches in Elko County to build the South Fork Reservoir. The Pete Tomera family then bought the Marvel and Horn ranches on Mount Lewis.
The Tomeras, along with three Filippini families and others, have been grazing the mountain ever since. The Tomeras own 80 percent of the grazing rights and most of the water on the mountain. The Tomeras own more than 80 springs, 12 wells and 183 miles of streams.
The Tomeras and their neighbors say they have always paid the grazing fees.
In February the Bureau of Land Management informed the Tomeras that it was cutting the grazing on Mount Lewis by 100 percent for 2014, Gerber said, leaving the three Tomera families no place to graze 1,800 head of cattle. This was after the families built an $80,000, 16-mile fence in an attempt to satisfy the BLM’s demands — to no avail.
Attorney Gerber, who represented the Tomeras on legal matters in the past, told the Tomeras that filing suit to force the government to let them graze their cattle this year would be pointless. It would take too long for a BLM administrative judge to act, and during that time the Tomeras and their neighbors would be prevented from grazing.
By the time they could appeal in a real court they would have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and missed years of grazing on the mountain, Gerber predicted, saying the actions of the BLM just this past year and so far this year have already cost the Tomera family over $300,000.
“The government and their friends in the radical environmental organizations claim that they know best and that by cutting grazing they are doing good for wildlife and the land. But that is not true,” Gerber says. “In 1828 when Peter Skene Ogden, with thirty trappers and hunters, was sent into Nevada to explore and trap by the Hudson Bay Company he found a barren country.”
Ogden’s party passed through the Battle Mountain and Elko areas, but never killed a deer, an elk, a buffalo, a sage hen or a wild horse. They had to kill and eat their own horses to even survive.
It wasn’t until ranchers began irrigating the land that wildlife flourished, Gerber points out. The livestock plowed up the ground with their sharp hooves and their fertilizer improved the soil so that plants could flourish.
Since the 1950s, Nevada cattle grazing has been reduced by more than 50 percent and sheep grazing by more than 90 percent. As a result of the massive grazing reductions huge fires have been occurring regularly burning millions of animals, Gerber says.
Organizers are also circulating a petition asking for the removal of the dead of the Battle Mountain BLM district, Doug Furtado. A copy that petition is available at Gerber’s law office at 491 4Fourth Street in Elko. The petition now has more than 500 signatures.