FALLON, Nev. — Most local ranchers here say the impoundment of about 200 head of cattle from grazing permits is a matter between the ranchers involved and the Bureau of Land Management.
The BLM has rounded up cattle belonging to Jack Vogt, 77, near Lida, Nev., about 150 miles northwest of Las Vegas, and cattle belonging to Colvin Livestock Co., near Goldfield, Nev.
"The bottom line is they stole my cattle and I'm trying to stick up for my property rights," says Ben Colvin, 63, one of the ranchers accused of illegally grazing his herd on BLM land since 1995.
Vogt says he will not pay the fines and fees and plans to go to court to block the auction of his cattle.
He describes the federal government as poor managers of the land, which he says should be under state or local control.
"If I pay their fees and go under federal jurisdiction, I'm dead, absolutely dead," Mr. Vogt says.
In both cases, the BLM has been trying for more than five years to resolve the disputes short of impoundment, says BLM spokeswoman Jo Simpson.
Simpson says Vogt's bill totals an estimated $300,000. Colvin's bill is estimated at $70,000 in back fees and fines.
The BLM is involved in various stages of talks with at least seven other Nevada ranchers accused of illegally grazing livestock on federal land.
While the Nevada Committee for Full Statehood has organized picketing around auction barns where the cattle are impounded, the men seem to have little sympathy among other Nevada cattlemen.
The New York Times reports that they have received no support from the Nevada Cattlemen's Association.
Rachel Buzzetti, executive director of the Nevada Cattlemen's Association, says that the grazing-fee system generally works well and that the impoundment was between these ranchers and the BLM.
Gary Snow, the Fallon Livestock Auction owner, says 80 to 90 percent of the ranchers he knew disapproved of Colvin's and Vogt's protests.
"This is not our preferred action," Simpson says. "We would much prefer the people in trespass get their cows off voluntarily. These things have been going on for a long time."
The BLM plans to sell the impounded cattle at auction if the owners fail to pay the back fees. A deadline for payment has not been set. The agency must provide the owners with five days' notice before holding the auction.
Ben Colvin's family ranching roots in Nevada date back to before the Civil War.
"My family's been in the ranching business since before 1860," Colvin says.
Jack Vogt started ranching in California just after World War II with a single cow and wound up with a large herd in south-central Nevada.
Federal officials refuse to describe either man as a rancher.
"They are trespassers, not ranchers," says Bob Abbey, the Nevada director of the federal Bureau of Land Management. "I have too much respect for the ranching profession to describe these men that way. They are simply out to get something for free from the American taxpayer."
Colvin has nothing kind to say about the BLM.
"Those who would arm themselves and take other people's cattle used to be called cattle rustlers." he says.
Colvin and Vogt have paid nothing since 1995, according to the BLM, and have refused to comply with herd rotation schedules intended to limit overgrazing on particular stretches of range.
They are receiving the support of the Nevada Committee for Full Statehood, an anti-federal government group here that does not recognize the BLM's authority over public lands in Nevada.
The group says it fully supports Colvin and Vogt, and that the actions of the BLM indicate Nevadans are being treated like serfs. They say Nevada has been relegated to the status of a territory of the federal government.
Abbey dismisses the accusations as a smokescreen for efforts to defraud the treasury. The fees, set by Congress, are $1.35 per month per animal unit, defined as either a cow and a calf or five sheep.
Protesters say the BLM is taking the cattle without a court order.
The BLM says that under their rules, they don't need a court order.
Colvin's livestock grazing permit was revoked in 1997 and he lost two appeals, BLM spokeswoman JoLynn Worley says. The BLM served trespass notices and notices of intent to impound the cattle to try to resolve the issue short of impoundment, she says.
The cattle were seized from the Montezuma federal grazing allotment that borders Nellis Air Force Base, stretching more than 90 miles from Tonopah south to near Beatty. The southern end of the allotment is home to wild mustangs and officially "threatened" desert tortoises and is under stress from unusually dry conditions, BLM says.
Portions of the allotment were closed to grazing in 1996 due to drouth, and BLM conducted emergency roundups of wild horses to ease stress on the range.
Jackie Holmgren, who works the Rawhide Ranch between Hawthorne and Gabbs, says recent rains have helped the range. She disputes BLM's claim that the cattle were damaging the land.
"If it's in bad condition at all, it's because they haven't gathered the horses," she tells the Reno Gazette-Journal.
This marks the seventh or eighth time the BLM has seized trespassing cattle on federal land in Nevada over the past decade, Worley says.
The federal government owns 87 percent of the land in Nevada, more than in any other state, and grumblings over federal stewardship date back to Nevada's entry into the union in 1864.
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