After Bundy, Ranchers Continue to Bully Federal Government without Consequence

After years of landscape scale drought in Nevada, irrational grazing practices continue. While the Bureau of Land Management is required by federal law to protect wildlife habitat on our public lands, the agency has been woefully lax in addressing the combined impacts of livestock grazing and drought on habitat essential to sage-grouse, antelope, mule deer and countless other species.

This February, one local Nevada office of the Bureau of Land Management finally took a small step to address this issue, and recommended closing an area of priority sage-grouse habitat to grazing in order to protect the remaining habitat. The BLM proposed closing the severely degraded Argenta allotment to grazing for one year to allow the ravaged landscape to begin a healing process.

Then the Cliven Bundy debacle unfolded, and public lands ranchers saw that those who refuse to follow the rule of law face. . . well. . . no consequence. And so the ranchers who graze the Argenta allotment for less than ten percent of fair market value refused to rest the land. Instead, this anti-government faction began a “Grass March” to Reno, supposedly modeled after Gandhi’s 1930 “Salt March” in protest of the British colonial monopoly on salt. However, a protest centered on refusal to rest a resource in the interest of sustainability, when use of that resource is heavily subsidized year after year, seems far from Ghandiesque.

Following the “Grass March” in May, the BLM surrendered to the pressure and drafted a new agreement to allow the ranchers back on the Argenta allotment this year. It allowed cattle to turn out, but required their removal when stream-use standards were met. While spring rains had greened up some invasive weeds on the land, the long-term drought issues impacting wildlife habitat remained unaddressed.

The terms laid out by that new agreement were exceeded last month. Streams and springs were severely damaged by livestock grazing and trampling. But now, the ranchers are failing to live up to the very agreement that their bullying forced BLM to capitulate to in the first place. Consistent with its mandate as managers of federal land, BLM has demanded the removal of cattle from the Argenta allotment, and the subsidized public lands ranchers have refused. Cattle remain loose, wreaking havoc on the landscape. Next, the ranchers plan to take this bullying and intimidation on the road from Nevada to Washington, D.C., with a march across the country branded the “Cowboy Express.”

Like Cliven Bundy and his supporters, these ranchers think they are above the law. They refuse to be held accountable for the condition of public lands after degradation by their livestock. When the “Cowboy Express” arrives in D.C., those who sit in offices in Washington should know that it is not the arrival of heroic stewards of the western land. Instead, it is the descent upon the Capitol of an extremist group of rogue ranchers who refuse to acknowledge the authority of the federal government, while simultaneously demanding that the government continue its hand-outs in perpetuity.

BLM utilization cage on Slaven Creek. ©Katie Fite
BLM utilization cage on Slaven Creek. ©Katie Fite




  1. R. Harold Smoot Avatar
    R. Harold Smoot

    I doubt they will get very far – if even setting out altogether.
    You’ll recall the recent veiled threats of right-wing truckers who claimed they would shut down DC with their rigs. A few showed up and the all the hype fizzled a couple of hours later.
    If ‘ranchers’ are touring the country in protest – they’re not ranchers. Unless they are wealthy and have a large staff to suggest they are going to leave their responsibilities is just posturing.
    On the other hand, if they wish to open up this debate and push the public lands issue then we should welcome it as an opportunity to expose what is really occurring on our lands and just how these supposed ‘stewards’ are really taking care of it.

    1. Allen Hengst Avatar

      I live in DC and, if more than a half dozen of these so-called “rancher” cowboys show up here, I’ll eat my hat.

      ~ The Redresser

  2. Ann Mond Avatar
    Ann Mond

    “The motion is the latest in the ongoing legal battle about the future of wild horses in the Wyoming Checkerboard, a more than 2 million acre swath of public and private land where more than half of the state’s remaining wild horse herds reside. In 2013, the BLM entered into a consent decree with the Rock Springs Grazing Association agreeing to remove all the wild horses from RSGA’s private lands on the Checkerboard and to consider, through the appropriate public process, zeroing out the wild horse populations in this area. These actions will essentially turn the public lands over to ranchers who graze livestock on these lands at taxpayer-subsidized rates.”

  3. Gail Avatar

    I can only hope that the federal government is planning a surprise for these ranchers. This is an affront to all Americans and the public lands we all treasure.

  4. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    I fear that bit of grandstanding by the BLM in Nevada will be all that will be done.

  5. Nancy Taylor Avatar
    Nancy Taylor

    Why doesn’t the BLM hire the helicopters to round up the cattle instead of horses. I’m sure that would start a conversation between free-riding ranchers and the government.

  6. Margaret Avatar

    NV is a screwed up mess. There is a fairly big field that is bright green–like someone is growing a field of corn. It’s that color. For a dry state it really sticks out. It’s between Winnemucca and Battle Mountain, clearly seen from I 80.

    Between Elko and Wells there were cattle on both sides of I 80 at the end of July. They were still there on Friday when I passed through again.

    Going north on Hwy 93 there is another herd of cattle.

    Up in Montana on the Pryors there were trespass cattle on the Horse Range. Not a step or two but at least a mile in from the Forest Service fence when I saw them. Last seen they were headed over the knoll going towards Mystic Pond/Penn’s Cabin.

    We have ranchers that are ruining the land for their own purposes. When the cattle have eaten everything what are the ranchers going to feed? They’ll have no excuse.

    1. June Avatar

      I took a 3 week road trip west in June. ..all I saw was cattle..everywhere. They literally stood in the road refusing to move. Saw way less horses than expected. Things for sure need to change, sick of the mooching by these ranchers.

  7. Brett Haverstick Avatar
    Brett Haverstick

    Thanks for an update Travis. This was predictable. Monkey-see, monkey-do.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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