Ranchers trot to Capitol Hill to protest grazing rights

Nevada cattle ranchers rode their horses down Constitution Avenue toward the Capitol building on Thursday -- the final mile in their cross-country ride that started in Bodega Bay, California, with one simple message for lawmakers: No regulation of their land without representation. They don't belong to any organization. They are neighbors, and they have named their journey the "Grass March."

"We've been riding all the way across the country in a relay,” said rancher Grant Gerber. The group traveled “five miles at a gallop,” he said, and passed the petitions to the next rider.

The ranchers believe the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is regulating them unfairly. One of the petitions is a call for the resignation of Bureau of Land Management District Manager Doug Furtado, who they allege sympathizes with the idea that land should be left in its natural state, and should not be grazed. However, Rudy Evenson, Deputy Chief of Communications for Nevada Bureau of Land Management, told McClatchy that BLM exists to preserve public land for multiple uses, including hiking, grazing, mining, among others.

“The purpose of managing grazing is to make it possible to graze in future years,” Evenson said.

Ranchers in the region often graze their livestock on public land in addition to land they lease or own. This is an age-old practice, and ranchers must apply for a permit from the BLM to do so. The permit lists the conditions for grazing, and in this case, Nevada's third consecutive year of serious drought is threatening those conditions. But these Nevada ranchers say the spring rains were strong and grass on public lands is tall. The ranchers have appealed. The BLM says it is following standard procedure. No matter who or what force of nature is at fault, one thing is undeniable: many ranching families are feeling the negative effects from this regulation.

Eddyann Filippini lives on a family ranch in Battle Mountain, Nevada.

"Last year our family was issued a full force in effect decision by our district manager and we were run off. We had to remove our cattle, 900 head from 300 square miles of allotments ... We had to sell some, we tried to find alternative pasture. And the decision is in effect until the remainder of the drought in one growing season. It's pretty devastating because the high desert of Nevada, sometimes we only get 3-4 inches of rain in a season, or a year. So if the BLM is to determine when the drought is over, we'll probably never ever be able to take our cattle back out there," Filippini said.