An Open Letter to BLM Director Neil Kornze

February 2, 2016

Dear Mr. Kornze,

During last month’s armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, several articles reported that the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) – the agency you lead– was in negotiations to restore a grazing permit of the convicted criminals whose mandatory minimum sentencing was ostensibly the spark that ignited the January standoff.  The Bundy bunch and their allies felt that Dwight and Stephen Hammond were unfairly treated by the court’s enforcement of the required prison sentence for setting fire to public lands to cover up their criminal wildlife poaching.

In February 2014, the BLM declined to renew the Hammonds’ expiring permit to graze on four BLM allotments. BLM’s reason for not renewing their permit was the Hammonds’ substantial non-compliance with the regulations, including the aforementioned arson that followed years of other bad acts by these permittees, including threats and intimidation of federal employees. The BLM rightly defended its decision in the Office of Hearings and Appeals when the Hammonds appealed. After an administrative law judge denied the Hammonds’ request for a stay of the decision, finding BLM’s action was justified, BLM again defended its decision before the Interior Board of Land Appeals, which has not yet ruled.

One might think that, given all the work BLM put into its decision and the subsequent legal defense, there would be no way the agency would back down now. Surely it would make no sense for the agency to negotiate away rational decisions and hard-fought legal wins in favor of placating law-breaking ranchers. Surely, in the interest of protecting competing land uses, the agency would uphold closures meant to protect imperiled wildlife habitat, prevent invasive species infestations, and limit ongoing degradation.

Slaven Creek on the Argenta allotment, Battle Mountain, Nevada. © Ken Cole, Western Watersheds Project.
Slaven Creek on the Argenta allotment, Battle Mountain, Nevada.

But the BLM has been backing down, giving in, and failing to uphold its field managers’ decisions more and more frequently under your lead. One need look no further than the Battle Mountain District 250 miles south east to see the BLM’s acquiescence to other unreasonable rancher demands. There, following a well-considered drought plan, BLM temporarily closed the Argenta and the Battle Mountain Complex allotments to livestock grazing. Its decisions were upheld following litigation from the ranchers, and the District Manager survived the personal harassment documented in this recent L.A. Times story.  But when the ranchers refused to obey the closures, BLM brought in John Ruhs from D.C. to slap their greedy hands with a pittance of a fine and to ultimately let them put livestock back onto the allotments. After the BLM spent nearly $270,000 dollars on a “collaborative” process figuring out the best way to throw more taxpayer money at the parched Argenta allotment in the form of new range infrastructure, the ranchers have pledged to break the rules again this spring if the authorized grazing isn’t to their liking.

Which is why we really hope you aren’t negotiating with the Hammonds. It’s unfair to the public who expect you to protect their public lands. It’s unfair to the wildlife that shares these lands with the private profits on hooves, and to the humans that benefit from the ecological services provided by wild places and properly stewarded landscapes. It’s unfair to your staff to undermine their hard work and tough decisions in the interest of getting along with criminals. It’s even unfair to the ranchers that do follow the law. But BLM’s impotency in holding criminals accountable practically ensures that more ranchers will decide that following the law is optional.


Travis Bruner, Executive Director

Greta Anderson, Deputy Director

Ken Cole, Idaho Director

Western Watersheds Project



  1. Paul Edwards Avatar
    Paul Edwards

    It staggers the imagination that the BLM could even begin to consider negotiating with, far less acquiescing to, the brazen desire of convicted criminals to renew grazing leases on land they have abused and defiled for years.

    Does the BLM intend to actively promote the kind of flagrant and outrageous scofflaw behavior demonstrated by the arrogant throwback hick, Cliven Bundy? Does it wish to invite the kind of imbecile hubris that was put on the national stage at Malheur?

    Criminals deserve nothing but punishment commensurate with their crimes. Enforce the law or you enfeeble it.

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue


  2. Brooks Fahy Avatar

    Thank you Greta, Ken and Travis for speaking up so eloquently. It is extremely unfortunate the mainstream environmental movement has been so quiet on this topic. Keep up the great work.

  3. Lisa LeBlanc Avatar
    Lisa LeBlanc

    Where’s the “Standing Ovation” button on here?!!!!

  4. Lynne Jones Avatar
    Lynne Jones

    The BLM is not doing a good job of anything. THey round up the American citizens’ wild horses, donkeys, and burros. THese animals belong the American citizens – not to the BLM, and they do not have the right to chase them with helicoptors, killing many, including baby foals, then keep them in pens without cover in the heat, etc. and even worse yet, selling them to KILLER BUYERS.

    Now, on top of this they are not stopping criminals from getting grazing ranges that belong to our wild horses, etc.

    This must stop. THis agency is running amock and we, the American citizen and taxpapers, demand that it straighten itself out and start doing what we, the owners of this land and wild animals, want it to do.

    1. Lily Avatar

      You really have no idea what you are talking about. You claim they have no right to manage wild horses? On the contrary, the BLM is mandated by Congress, your representatives, to do just that. Maybe instead of directing your wrath against the agency for carrying out their jobs, you should be writing your Congressperson.

      BTW, according to the law, the BLM is supposed to humanely euthanize horses for which there is no adoption demand, yet the agency has refused to do so, even when they had the authority. And yet you denigrate the agency as killers.

      1. Juliette Avatar

        The BLM is mandated by Congress to “manage” our wild horses but after the addition of the Burns Amendment, they have only managed our public lands for cattle and energy interests. Our tax dollars are paying for the BLM to give away grazing leases at far below market value, capture and impound our wild horses, then pay to feed them in feed lots. All for the benefit of private parties. There is no law that the BLM is to euthanize wild horses that are not adopted, though you, Lily, may wish there was. No, we waste thousands and thousand of tax dollars feeding them so privately owned cattle can use our land instead.

        1. Ida Lupines Avatar
          Ida Lupines

          And don’t forget the mantra ‘finding a wild horse a good home’. It takes advantage of what most people don’t know about wild horses – we all want an animal to have a good home, right? But wild horses are wild, and are harmed by being domesticated. Leave them alone. There’s also no guarantee of what will happen to these poor animals when they are forcibly taken off the range and brought God knows where. It’s the way we do things, I guess.

          1. Ida Lupines Avatar
            Ida Lupines

            Or what I call ‘The Big Lie(s)’. Recently abandoned horses are not the same as horses who have been wild for generations. They’ve ended up with kill buyers and sent to slaughterhouses, and who’s to say the new ‘good home’ won’t also abandon or sell this poor animal?

            I really resent this crap, because I don’t eat beef, haven’t for 20 years or more, and I don’t want my tax money going to support horse slaughter, predator trapping and gassing, or deadbeat ranchers!

    2. June Avatar

      Lynne Jones. ..everyone’s thoughts exactly. Very well put!!

      1. TC Avatar

        Not everyone. Not even close to everyone. It’s a bit more nuanced and complicated issue than this. As to “ranges that belong to our wild horses” – no. Not as a universal rule. Instead mule deer and pronghorn and sage-grouse and mountain plover and grizzly bears and BT and WT prairie dogs and sage sparrows and pygmy rabbits and all the rest, above domestic horses dumped or escaped and gone feral. Like the two mares and two geldings with mixed ranch brands that I watched in a “wild horse” band a week ago. They need a home, but it’s not the fragile Red Desert. Maybe you’ll take them, Lynne Jones?

        1. Professor Sweat Avatar
          Professor Sweat

          To play devil’s advocate, our North American ecosystems evolved with native horse species that were lost in Pleistocene extinctions. Perhaps what we see the Red Desert as today is not what it once was 12,000 years ago, in what was arguably a more biodiverse and pristine American landscape.

          Needless to say, their impact is negligible compared to the effects of cattle grazing in our deserts. I’d rather see more focus on retiring leases than rounding up horses.

          1. Nancy Avatar

            +1 Professor

            Interesting that most of these horses are mares 6-7 years old.


          2. TC Avatar

            Their impact in the Red Desert is not negligible. It’s significant, and it’s easily visible, suggesting that we only recognize the tip of the iceberg. And as to what that ecosystem evolved with – you’re missing all of the large carnivores they preyed on progenitors of the modern horse. Agree on the grazing leases, but we shouldn’t dismiss one problem and focus only on the other. Although I see little progress on either, really.

    3. rork Avatar

      Do not pollute the argument for proper stewardship of grazing with your pro feral horse garbage. It makes us look bad.

      1. Ida Lupines Avatar
        Ida Lupines

        You bring up a good point though – wild horses are targeted for removal a lot more intensively than wild hogs. I wonder why that is? People have found a ‘use’ for them, as in hunting? I don’t know. If thee were some logical train of which animals we want gone and which we want to keep, I might be able to get on board? Or I guess on Dan Ashe’s ark is the better word – sailing right into climate change. Best to stay behind, IMO.

    4. Gary Humbard Avatar
      Gary Humbard

      Lynne Jones, I realize you may not have an open mind but here is something to think about. I would also recommend the unbiased book Wild Horses of the West by J. Edward De Steiger.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    Lynne Jones,

    The implicit message here is that the BLM will only respect you if you take over some facility, start a rangefire, or show up with weapons.

  6. Yvette Avatar

    Great letter. Someone somewhere has to be getting the directions on how to handle these situations. How high up the chain of command is is coming from? I truly felt badly for the BLM employees during the 2014 Bundy standoff in NV. These are just people trying to do their jobs. Who is behind the decision to stand down with the occupations and defiance of of permit requirements? Why are making decisions that favor the grazing permittees rather than protecting and enforcing the protection of our lands? Is this atmosphere permeated throughout the entire DOI agencies or just the BLM?

    1. TC Avatar

      Finally, Yvette is on the right track. This isn’t coming from BLM. This is coming from higher up in the administration. I’d wager that BLM would be happy to enforce rules and regulations, but they cannot do it without support from upper administration and administration at the Cabinet (and higher) level. And it’s pretty clear they’re not getting it – they may even be getting “stand down” directives. I believe you’re sawing on the wrong tree.

      1. Yvette Avatar

        After the Malheur occupation, I believe BLM is getting ‘stand down’ orders from way high up in the chain. <<<<< 100% guess on my part.

  7. MK Ray Avatar
    MK Ray

    This speaks to my fear. (and I don’t use the word ‘fear’ lightly) Continual Acquiescence by the federal land agencies will lead to even more non-compliance. The only outcome for this failure to uphold even the most modest of standards and demand even the pittance of a grazing fee is no grazing management whatsoever and the de-facto takeover of OUR land by the livestock industry (and of course their oil and gas puppet-masters). Right now, only a few ranchers are behaving badly. But that number is growing. If it isn’t stopped, it won’t be stoppable until the land is utterly ruined.

  8. Marie Avatar

    The land does not belong to those ranchers. It belongs to the people of the United States. If they want more grazing land, they need to go buy it legally in an area that does not encroach on the rights of the rest of us.

  9. alf Avatar

    Where’s Janet Reno when we need her ?

  10. monty Avatar

    Are we on the edge of a mini civil war? Where does the federal government go from here if they continue to back down. Is this current situation similar to the Freemen “thing” in Montana? What has occurred at the Malheur refuge is outrageous. Where else but on federal land can a “outlaw” point a gun at a law enforcement office and get away with it? May I point a gun at a highway patrolman without consequences? What the hell is going on?

  11. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    Did anyone see this? It’s all so predictable. It would be comical if the results aren’t so tragic. Not only do the Western states not want ESA protection for sage grouse, they don’t want to ‘cooperate’ on much protection at all:

    In a Jan. 15 letter to BLM Director Neil Kornze, Sandoval argued a more effective way to protect the chicken-sized bird is to step up wildfire restoration and reduce “out-of-control” mustang populations. He says there’s no scientific basis for the mining withdrawal, but asks that if necessary, it be limited to a maximum of five years. He also urged federal officials to clarify their “confusing” definition of “valid existing claims,” which Jewell insists are exempt.

    In detailed comments attached to the letter, Sandoval’s office outlined the plan he says would protect 49 additional leks — the bird’s traditional breeding grounds — while dropping protection of five others in the government blueprint.

    Slightly shifting protection boundaries based on new maps would release all but 1 percent of the 3,726 mining claims currently in limbo in the biggest U.S. gold-producing state, he said.

    1. Mal Adapted Avatar
      Mal Adapted

      We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture.

      -Aldo Leopold

      Sounds like Sandoval sees land only as a source of commodities for his campaign donors to exploit. That calls to mind another of my favorite quotes:

      It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

      -Upton Sinclair

      Sandoval knows very well on whom his salary depends. I’m afraid that unless conservationists can outbid commodities-extraction interests, the esthetic harvest Leopold spoke of will inevitably fail.

      1. Powwow girl Avatar
        Powwow girl

        Sandoval is taking money from Jones Vargas the largest gold mining and oil law firm in the nation.

    2. Powwow girl Avatar
      Powwow girl

      Sage Grouse rules were penned by Barrick Gold!

  12. J Avatar

    – As we know the standards in life for the good of the many is the rule of law and it must be justly asserted to uphold the standards of some particular aspect about life and therein defend both the people and the state according to common sense, for over the long-term. This enables the operations of a nation and subset local environment to retain reasonable and rational views on issues and allow people to find freedom, yet constraint, say in the use of land and its upkeep over time. Finding this balance can be done by (to) holding to the integrity of both the ramifications involved in the event(s) and through viewing ‘why the positions were formed in the beginning, et al, in the first place.’ In no situation should the people hold the state ransom, nor the state the people to laws which coerce them into becoming just subjects of the law. The grid of decisions should answer integrity alongside of longevity, balancing interests with the acumen of good governance.

    -Just some normal insight into viewing more and more of the stresses we put to our land masses, involving people; economies and abilities to co-exist between varying facets of limitations.

  13. Powwow girl Avatar
    Powwow girl

    Neil kornze is the son of Barrick Canadian mining executive and head geologist Larry Konze. Barrick gold is one of the largest welfare Ranchers in the US stealing money from Heritage Ranchers and US taxpayers!


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