Chairman J.J. Goicoechea noted that on April 8 he chaired the Sage Brush Ecocouncil meeting in Carson City, the RAC meeting in Eureka on April 9 and then on April 11 attended a NACO meeting with representatives from Senators Harry Reid and Dean Heller’s offices on the draft Reid/Heller Wilderness bill as well as having multiple phone calls with other county officials, staff members of the Governor’s Office and the Department of Agriculture regarding “what’s going on with down south.”
In considering a response to the Nevada Sagebrush Landscape Conservation & Economic Development Act proposed by Senators Reid and Heller, which the Chairman refers to as the “wilderness bill,” Natural Resource Manager Jake Tibbitts brought before the commission a drafted “short and succinct three page letter” which includes “substantial portions of the Master Plan and county code to let both of our Senators know Eureka County’s policy that’s contained in both our Master Plan and county code.”
Tibbitts said, “We note in this letter that we’re prohibited from being able to support any wilderness provisions of that bill. It is a positive letter meaning we do appreciate the proactive effort they’re taking to try to get ahead of this thing, but ask the direction be changed to focus more on adaptive management, those things we need to do on the ground rather than simply locking up land and saying it’s for the sage grouse.”
Tibbitts said the Director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife at the last Sage Brush Ecosystem Council meeting said on the record he did not support exclusion zones or wilderness areas because they tend to exclude areas that really don’t benefit sage grouse, and then they also tie our hands with regards to on the ground management options” for which reason the Department of Wildlife doesn’t support those provisions.
Chairman Goicoechea and Tibbitts spent time on April 14 going over the letter. The Natural Resources Advisory Council approved the letter on April 9.
Goicoechea noted the letter raises the county’s support for Rep. Mark Amodei’s bill 4419 and support of that and encourages the senators to support that bill and its language. The commission approved the letter as drafted. The chairman said, “I am very appreciative of what they are trying to do to help find a legislative fix to this huge problem. This is just not in my mind going in the right direction for the bird or habitat and in the long run it won’t be right for the rural economy in Nevada and we have to watch out for that because once it’s in place it will stay there forever.”
Turning to consideration of a response regarding efforts by the BLM to impose grazing restrictions and gather unpermitted cattle in Nevada, including law enforcement issues, Tibbitts noted there were “folks that want to provide public comment.”
Tibbitts noted the impetus for the agenda item was the gather of the Bundy cattle in Southern Nevada which has been “all over the news.” Tibbitts noted the BLM has since withdrawn from that gather and has released the cattle.
He said the item wasn’t agendized to enter into the argument of whether Bundy had the right to graze cattle without a permit. Tibbitts said the issue has been creeping up over the past 20 years and the Bundy case has “created a pretty large firestorm for a lot of the rurals in Nevada, Arizona, Utah and a lot of the neighboring states” and issues which have been “bubbling for a while” have reached ‘a boiling point.”
Tibbitts characterized this as a “tenuous time in Nevada” as “people are feeling attacked” and users of federal lands in particular are unable to sustain economically. The issue of valid existing rights on federal lands being impaired and not recognized is causing major public outcry as at issue are vested rights of 150 years existing since even before the time Nevada became a state and before the federal agencies came into existence are being challenged. Tibbitts noted a general failure of the federal land management agencies “to meet their own obligations while they’re imposing these heavy-handed restrictions on other users.”
Tibbitts said, “We’re continually told the funding is not available to gather horses” and bring the population down to appropriate management levels while “on the flip side of the coin they can spend up to $2 million to gather 900 unpermitted livestock.” Tibbitts noted such money if spent on managing horses could “go along way to improving the resource.”
The other issue that’s arisen involves BLM law enforcement and the closure of non-BLM roads. Chairman Goicoechea and Tibbitts put together a memo to send to the Governor which includes portions of Eureka County’s policies regarding law enforcement closure of roads and including a letter from Sheriff Ken Jones and Undersheriff Keith Logan including their position on law enforcement and road closures, as well as a position statement from the Western Sheriff’s Association which received the Commission’s support a couple of years ago. That information has been forwarded to the Governor.
Tibbitts said the issue “down south is not over” and public feeling is “boiling up in other counties.” Tibbitts characterized a “culture of conflict that’s being bred in these decisions and in these agencies” rather than a focus on finding solutions. Tibbitts said Eureka County supports good working relations with federal agencies, but added, “It’s getting pretty scary” as “permittees feel backed into a corner.” He believes it will “get much more ugly from here.”
Tibbitts read an excerpt from an email received from the BLM. Tibbitts said during a recent Natural Resource Advisory Commission phone conference meeting with the BLM District Manager, who was not physically present, when the BLM was working on their drought management position, permittees in the room “said don’t let him know I’m here” as they felt they had been personally attacked for speaking out against the BLM on issues.
Tibbitts sent an email to the Director the next day thanking him for attending and put his thoughts out that on the county’s side they want to work towards solutions, and requesting the flexibility on the ground to do so.
Tibbitts received a response from the District Manager that said, “The culture of resistance needs to change.” Tibbitts said it wasn’t about how to work together but rather the BLM perceiving the permittees as a “culture of resistance.” He noted that multiple uses have declined on public lands and grazing is down 50 percent in Eureka from 30 years ago. Tibbitts said Furtado communicated in the e-mail that the permittees “all need to be progressive or they’d never get an adverse grazing decision from my office.”
Tibbitts said, the Director continued, “As for the wild horses, dealing with them is a choice that they made when they bought or leased the ranch’ so rather than saying we understand horses are over AML” it’s “putting the blame back on the person for ever entering into a lease or purchasing the ranch,” and further saying “They knew the horses were out there and they need to deal with it.” Tibbitts said that cultural attitude is “seeping out to the people on the ground” wanting “to back up the District Manager.”
Tibbitts said, “I’m not recommending we take any action,” but said, “the board needs to think about how we strategize moving forward and how we can come back to center” and “do what’s right for the resource and do what’s right for the rights.”
Tibbitts will develop a response to the Director of the BLM and the Congressional delegation and wanted to let the commissioners and public know “it’s getting pretty bad out there. That’s our economic base and if we don’t fight for it we’re going to be sitting here without anything in a few years.”
The Chairman said he agreed and wanted to gather more data and put together a letter outlining a path going forward. Goicoechea said, “There is an air of resistance here.” Goicoechea agreed the ranchers, horsemen, energy companies and miners feel “their back against the wall” under an on-going pressure from the BLM to say “’we can live with an ‘x’ percent reduction whether that be in grazing, exploration, mining or whatever’ and ‘if you guys can just agree to that we’ll fall back to that line and defend it with you.’ And I have said over and over, we’re not going to fall back anymore. We can’t fall back anymore.
“Our economic base is eroding in the rurals. These small operations are ceasing to exist because of this. I do have a meeting Thursday at the state office of the BLM” with a purpose on Goicoechea’s part of “finding a path forward” and when talking about grazing with the BLM to talk about “giving a permittee all the tools in the toolbox and the flexibility needed rather than painting an individual into a corner and saying ‘well, you failed, so we’re going to take it away.’ That is probably the most concerning to me right next to what I saw unfold down south last week.”
Goicoechea is concerned that Eureka County will see problems over the next many years due to the sage grouse and cannot allow the control of the federal government to continue as it has over the past ten years and in particular the past four or five years.
Goicoechea is seeking confirmation that water developments have been removed by the BLM and if he can get proof that water developments by a permittee were removed from a source with a vested claim or certificated claim, he will “go to the mat over that. I don’t care where it’s at. That is wrong.”
Goicoechea doesn’t want to put a statement out yet. “I think everybody in this state knows where Eureka County stands. We’re not going to back away from that on horses, on water rights, on grazing, on mining, and on access to public lands; and I will say, and I’m not going to speak on behalf of Undersheriff Logan and Sheriff Jones, but I’m pretty damned sure there would not have been road closures in Eureka County like there were in Clark County. We take care of our own business.”
Undersheriff Logan said, “Our position has been and will remain that federal law enforcement and BLM in particular” do not have the right under NRS to close local roads. “We wouldn’t allow the protestors to close it. We wouldn’t allow the federal government.”
He said he explained to the BLM in a recent phone conversation that the Eureka County Sheriff’s office “was not impressed by what they’re doing down there.” Logan said the rangers come in “and wreak havoc” and then the rangers disappear and “that’s not acceptable here.”
“I honestly believe in my heart in talking with representatives of the Bundy family that had we had more state and local control, we would not be where we are today; and perhaps we could have found a resolution a long time ago” in the last twenty years, Goicoechea said.
George Parman said he hates to see the “country advance into a police state” controlled “by a bunch of rangers.” Parman said, “I think our State is free and Eureka County should recognize why should any action taken by our government have to go to the extent that we are in a police state and we are controlled by a bunch of rangers.” He questioned where they got their arms and ammunition, saying, “This is our country. Why was this allowed?’
Angie Black pointed out “this happened” years ago with the Dann sisters when horses and cattle were “hauled off.” She wondered if it was racial because Bundy is white and a Mormon.
Goicoechea said the issue is not whether Bundy had the right to have that many cattle there as that was decided in court; that the issue was 1200 square miles were cordoned off and completely shut down. “That didn’t happen here. The Eureka County Sheriff and Eureka County didn’t allow that entire range to be shut down to public access and that’s what this is about. Today it’s about control and public access and controlling everyone. It’s not about the gather.”