As the Grass March Pony Express makes its way to Washington, D.C., families back on the ranch in Battle Mountain, NV, are doing all they can to handle the loss of their summer pasture. Several families and livestock associations await a hearing of their appeals of a decision by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to remove thousands of cattle from their summer range for an indefinite period. In the meantime, they have been forced to pay BLM for “willful trespass” because they were unable to gather every animal after the agency issued them a seven-day notice to remove the cattle.
“We got the notice on July 23,” said rancher Pete Tomera. “And we went straight to work gathering over 2,000 head off the areas the BLM claimed were overutilized. Then the BLM flew over the area on July 30, and counted about 230 head, which they criticized us for. I told them they should congratulate us. It normally takes us a month and a half to gather all that country— and that’s in the fall, when the cows are ready to come off.”
The ranchers kept combing the country for cattle. By September, BLM searched the area again and found 14 head, Tomera said. He was in disbelief when the agency called them into a meeting and told them to sign a document that said they were trespassing. There would be a $270 fine for the families’ “willful” trespass, plus $2,655.10 for “administrative cost.”
“They told us, ‘You will not walk out of this room unless you sign this document,’” Tomera told WLJ. “They said if we didn’t sign it, they would cite us for repeated willful trespass from back in July—which they said would cost us tens of thousands of dollars more. So we signed it.”
Tomera’s son, Dan, told WLJ, “You don’t expect that—that kind of underhandedness. Otherwise we would have recorded the meeting... although they had told us in a previous meeting that we were not allowed to record it—or else they’d cancel the meeting.”
He was shocked by what he’d seen. “Heaven sakes, this is supposed to be the government that’s working for the people,” said the younger Tomera. He said that all the support shown for the Grass March “helps boost morale.”
Indeed, support for the ranchers in Battle Mountain has been broad and strong. Counties in both Nevada and Utah have passed resolutions of support. So have the Indian tribes of northern Nevada; in fact, ranchers of the Shoshone-Pauite tribe have seen similar treatment from BLM in recent days. Elected officials all the way up to the national level have voiced their support. Even BLM officials have been cited at rallies. According to Pete Tomera, the BLM employee he talked to at one of the Grass March rallies was kind and supportive—and everyone at the rally treated her with respect and kindness, as well.
Then there’ve been the donations to the Grass March from businesses and individuals. “Gateway Trailers in Elko donated an RV motor home and Elko Motors donated a four-door Dodge pickup,” Tomera said. “There’s been a lot of individuals and businesses donate money—about every business we do business with here in Battle Mountain has donated.” The money goes to fuel, feed for the livestock, and other expenses on the Grass March.
“People have donated places for us to stay with the horses almost every night,” said Pete’s wife, Lynn. She is riding with the Grass March while Pete stays home to put up hay and take care of the ranch. “There was a teleconference the other morning where ranchers from all over the country called in,” she said. “One man who lives 75 miles south of D.C. offered for us to stay on his farm. So we’ll have a place to stay and keep the horses when we get to Washington.”
Although he has lots to do, Pete Tomera says he plans to fly to Washington this week to meet the riders. “I’ll be there. We are six generations of Tomeras here on this ranch, and it’s all we’ve done. We can’t lose this fight,” he said. “We’re grateful to the people who are sticking by us.” — Theodora Dowling, WLJ Correspondent