Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How Wendy Van Asselt and her friends made 26 million acres disappear

By: Ron Arnold
Examiner Columnist
September 28, 2010

Environmental activist Wendy Van Asselt was at the World Resources Institute in 2003 when officials from the Wilderness Society made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.

They wanted her to lead a huge project to remove 26 million acres of federal land in the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) from oil and gas production, grazing, timber harvesting, mining for strategic minerals, off-road recreation, and providing rural jobs.

Van Asselt was a logical choice for the job since she had shown in her position at WRI — and previously at the Mineral Policy Center, with its shrill “No Dirty Gold” campaign — that she had a decided preference for stopping natural resource development, especially on federal lands.

The Wyss Foundation would fund the new project, thanks to a Wilderness Society board member, Hansjorg Wyss, a Swiss entrepreneur whose net worth was estimated at $6 billion. The Hewlett Foundation would also give $1 million to the project.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which managed the NLCS, would be cooperative, too, since stopping all those productive activities would require real authority for the system, authority that would give it a real budget, and it didn’t have either of them. The BLM would need help in persuading Congress to go along.

That was because Bruce Babbitt, President Clinton’s secretary of interior, had created the NLCS in 2000 by bureaucratic decree without first getting congressional approval. His “system” was really just a bureaucratic name for more than 800 existing BLM areas, each authorized separately, all created for various purposes, at various times, under various laws, with various budgets.

So, Van Asselt’s new job would be to get Congress to authorize Babbitt’s NCLS and give it a real budget. The graduate of Smith College (economics) and Harvard (master’s in public policy) would soon prove very much up to the challenge.

By the end of 2004, Van Asselt had organized a coalition of 50 anti-development groups to cover the NCLS’ far-flung units. She had also tapped a former colleague to help wangle the National Trust for Historic Preservation into putting the entire NLCS on its popular “Most Endangered Places” report card. That in turn prompted an invitation from the National Academy of Sciences to co-author an article for its main publication.

Since 2005 was the fifth “birthday” of NLCS, Van Asselt used it for a celebratory blitz and a forum to keep up her finely tuned attack on developers who opposed stopping development on the 26 million acres Van Asselt was eyeing. She clearly understood the game and made things happen.

It was a classic Washington iron triangle: The TWS folks loved her; the funders loved her, and the BLM loved her. Soon, some key members of Congress would love Van Asselt, too.

The BLM’s Elena Daly, director of the NLCS, began working closely with Van Asselt. Daly’s official appointment book includes multiple entries indicating she and Van Asselt regularly shared lunch and other meetings.

By 2006, BLM, TWS, and the funders (who ultimately poured more than $5 million into the campaign) knew Van Asselt was a political whiz kid. With Van Asselt’s close ties to the BLM, she could do what BLM couldn’t, which was informally tell Congress what the agency sought for NCLS. It had to be done discreetly, however, because few congressmen were likely to vote for the kind of NCLS that Van Asselt and her allies at BLM really wanted.

Multiple congressional sources point to creation of the NLCS Caucus in Congress in 2006 as the key development in Van Asselt’s campaign, convinced that it was suggested by her to Arizona Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva, the ultra-green chairman of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Grijalva, who was Van Asselt’s most important congressional ally, convened the bipartisan caucus, selected three co-chairmen — Reps. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz. — and grew the caucus into an instrument of power.

Regardless who suggested the caucus, Van Asselt was clearly counting votes on the Hill, as shown in a June 27, 2006, e-mail from her to Daly in which she gleefully reported that Rep. Sue Kelly, R-N.Y., had just joined the newly formed caucus.

“Bring on the Rs!” Van Asselt crowed. “Keep ‘em coming!”

Then, on April 4, 2007, Van Asselt left TWS to work for House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., as a member of the panel’s Democratic legislative staff. It was the perfect position from which Van Asselt could guide NCLS across the finish line, because the job put her at the coordinating center of the iron triangle pushing for the project.

Shortly after Van Asselt was hired by Rahall, Grijalva introduced the first NLCS bill, which was barely a page long, with only a vague paragraph authorizing the new system, and listing Bureau of Land Management areas to be included.

Republican legislators were horrified. “This bill goes well beyond a codification of what already exists,” their bill report said. “The [NLCS] is to be managed “in a manner that protects the values for which the components of the system were designated. The term `values’ is a wholly new concept to the BLM,” plucked from a national parks bill “to purposefully mandate broad and vague new management practices” with “this nebulous, malleable term.”

The National Park Service enforces things like “viewscapes,” “soundscapes,” and “smellscapes” — indefinable concepts inappropriate for productive BLM lands.

“For us to pass legislation to enforce legislatively undefined ‘values’ on a vast, resource rich part of the country is an unacceptable abdication of our responsibility as the policy setting branch of the government,” the Republicans concluded.

Grijalva’s 2007 bill went nowhere, but Van Asselt’s work as a Rahall legislative staffer in keeping information flowing to the interested parties within and without government paid off two years later.

In January 2009, Grijalva’s NLCS bill was lumped into the grab bag Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which passed Congress and was signed into law March 30, 2009, by President Obama.

Read more at the Washington Examiner: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/columns/OpEd-Contributor/Ron-Arnold--103896534.html#ixzz10oY4ghiy

Monday, September 27, 2010

New gas pipeline fires up Western ranchers, counties

A new sagebrush rebellion has spread across the West from Wyoming to Oregon. But this time the target is a big energy company , not the federal government.

El Paso Corp., the owner of the nation's largest natural gas pipeline system, angered ranchers and county officials this summer when it agreed with two environmental groups to set up the funds.

Even after El Paso Corp. cut a separate deal with the Public Lands Council, a group that promotes livestock grazing on public land, the anger has not subsided.

Construction has begun on the 675-mile "Ruby" natural gas pipeline that will run from Opal, Wyo., west to Malin, Ore.

Four counties have sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over its approval of the right-of-way for the pipeline, which will run just south of the Idaho border. And a coalition of counties -- including Cassia, Franklin, Oneida, Owyhee and Twin Falls counties in Idaho -- is trying to get El Paso to change the contract with the Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project and the Oregon Natural Desert Association.

These challenges come despite projections of 5,000 jobs, $70 million in state and local taxes during construction, and $280 million in annual property taxes to counties along the 675-mile route. At a time when unemployment is running at more than 14 percent in Nevada, El Paso's contractors are paying welders more than $75,000 a year.

"It's very troubling to me that many of these counties are willing to jeopardize these huge economic and social benefits," said Jim Cleary, president of El Paso's Western Pipeline Group.

Kent Connelly, chairman of the Lincoln County Commission in Wyoming, said the county wants the BLM to require El Paso to ensure there is no net loss of ranchers.

"We want Ruby in the ground. We want them paying taxes," he said. "We also want protection for the surface. We do not want to give up our ranchers."

Western Watersheds Project and the Oregon Natural Desert Association agreed not to challenge the pipeline in exchange for establishing two new nonprofit funds, operated independently of the groups. Each fund will be managed by a three-member board, with each environmental group appointing one representative, El Paso selecting a second representative, and both sides agreeing upon a third.

The Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund, established with Western Watersheds, got $15 million from El Paso. A fund set up with the Oregon Natural Desert Association got $7 million. The money will go for conservation easements and land purchases and to voluntarily retire
grazing permits.

But that can happen now only under very specific conditions under federal law.

"This notion that this fund will be used to end grazing on public lands in the West is not true," Cleary said.

At the heart of the protests is the underlying premise of the two funds: that ending grazing in the sagebrush steppe that covers much of the West will improve habitat for sage grouse and nearly a dozen other species.

"They say taking cattle off of the range will help the grouse," said Jay Hardy, a county commissioner from Box Elder County in Utah. "I don't see that."

Ranchers also are skeptical that the people who end up selling their ranches and grazing privileges to the El Paso-funded nonprofits will actually be willing sellers.

"The Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund is not a coercive fund," said Brian Ertz, a spokesman for Western Watersheds. "Nevertheless, it might be economical for public lands ranchers to pull their cattle off of public land. It's a hugely subsidized endeavor."

Many of the grazing permits will be up for renewal in the next two years, and ranchers say Western Watersheds will challenge the permits, tying the ranchers up in court until they will be forced to sell.

"That's just not the American way," said Jeff Faulkner, a Gooding rancher who is the executive director of the Western Legacy Alliance.

Ertz said Western Watersheds goes to court to enforce the nation's environmental laws.

"If they are saying they want the stick, we're ready to produce that," he said. "We're holding the threat of enforcement of existing laws over their head. We have no stick unless they're breaking the law."

El Paso's Cleary says he understands where the ranchers are coming from, but he had to make a business decision that also is critical to the counties and the states that will share in the economic benefits. He said Idaho would benefit since it will have access to the natural gas that will be carried nearby.

"We need to consider where we would be had we not settled with Western Watersheds," Cleary said.

The Great Basin Resource Watch, Toiyabe Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife also have filed lawsuits over grouse. The Center for Biological Diversity has sued to stop the pipeline to protect fish species and habitat, and two American Indian tribes have sued over sacred archaeological sites.

El Paso's problem was that it didn't do its homework before wading into a long-simmering battle it did not understand, said John Freemuth, senior fellow at the Andrus Center for Public Policy and a political science professor at Boise State University. It was not just about economics.

"Culture does matter," Freemuth said.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

NM cap and trade plan stirs debate

SANTA FE (AP) - After driving more than 200 miles, Matt Hinkle of Roswell hobbled down the auditorium walkway to the front of the nearly empty room. He jostled the chairs around to make room for his crutches and then laid out his opposition to a pair of proposals aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in New Mexico.
"From what I can see," he told a panel of state regulators, "the public in the state of New Mexico doesn't have a clue. ... They are completely uninformed as to what's going on. Really, in the end, they're going to be the ones paying for it."
The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board is considering two proposals — one from an environmental group and the other from the state Environment Department. The state's plan calls for a regional cap-and-trade program, and New Energy Economy wants to limit the emissions of the state's largest polluters — coal-fired power plants and the oil and gas industry.
While supporters say something needs to be done to combat climate change, critics are asking what cap and trade will end up costing New Mexico, a rural state where oil and gas contributes millions to state coffers, where small communities depend on mom-and-pop businesses and where a love for the land is shared by everyone from ranchers and environmentalists to Gov. Bill Richardson.
It's up to the seven board members to sift through days of testimony and 6,000 pages of documents before deciding whether carbon regulations can be woven into New Mexico's economic and cultural fabric.
The board is in the middle of a two-week hearing in Santa Fe on the state's proposal.
"It's a lot of work, but we take this seriously," board chairwoman Gay Dillingham said.
New Mexico's power plants and the oil and gas industry pump about 24 million metric tons of carbon emissions into the air each year. The state aims to curb the emissions of those that emit 25,000 metric tons or more, which roughly equals the annual emissions of 5,000 cars.
State officials say 63 facilities would fall under the rule, but that number could grow, as the Environment Department says it would eventually look to expand the scope of sources and emissions to account for industrial, commercial and residential buildings as well as transportation fuels.
Jim Norton, director of the department's Environmental Protection Division, said this is the first step to getting a handle on New Mexico's emissions.
"We have a serious problem that were facing in New Mexico and the world," Norton said. "In New Mexico, we're looking at hotter temperatures, reduced snowpack, more forest fires, less water in our streams and health impacts. The effects are just really severe and in a dry state like New Mexico, we're going to get hit harder."
But Hinkle and other critics argue that New Mexico's emissions are only a fraction of the global problem and that handicapping the state's businesses with another regulation could prove economically disastrous.
Armies of lawyers from all sides have been debating the economics for much of the week. State experts contend coal and refining industries would be negatively impacted but the overall cost to New Mexico's economy would be very small if the board approved the cap-and-trade plan.
Attorneys for the opposition tried to poke holes in the economists' predictions.
"A big question mark is what it is in terms of the true impacts on the state," said Karin Foster, an attorney for the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico.
Both Public Service Company of New Mexico, the state's largest electric utility, and Colorado-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc., which provides power to rural co-ops, say there will be costs to comply with the proposed regulations and those costs will have to be passed on to customers.
Officials in more than a dozen rural counties along the New Mexico-Arizona border are also concerned about the potential impacts.
"We keep putting these burdens on our rural communities, on agriculture, on mining, on our productive sectors in this state, and we're going to break their backs and everything that the urban consumer depends on is either going to disappear or skyrocket in price, from food to electricity," said Howard Hutchison of the Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties For Stable Economic Growth.
"There's a lot riding on it," he said.
Dozens of environmental groups and New Mexico residents who have testified on behalf of the proposals agree that this is an important issue. They say industry is overreacting and that regulators need to take steps to mitigate public health concerns and environmental degradation from unchecked pollution.
Judy Williams, a Santa Fe resident and member of the League of Women Voters, urged regulators to protect New Mexico's blue skies for future generations.
"Business as usual is not sustainable," she said.
Supporters also say this is New Mexico's chance to be a leader, something Richardson has pushed for since rolling out his emissions reduction goals in
2005. Even though climate legislation has stalled on the federal level, department experts testified that other states are also considering some form of climate regulations.
Farmington City Councilor Jason Sandel said he's worried New Mexico is being treated like a "lab rat," and that cap and trade would push jobs and investment dollars to neighboring states.
Sandel and supporters of the proposals have been busy urging more people to testify before the board.
Hinkle said it was important for him to be at the hearing. He said wanted to speak for the grandmothers, the plumbers and the school teachers who can't make the trip to Santa Fe and those who have yet to hear about the debate.
He pointed to the sparse crowd, suggesting there would be standing room only if people knew their utility bills could be impacted.
"If you had an informed public, they would be here," he said. "It's not good policy to set policy when the public is uninformed."
Norton said the state has "bent over backward" to make the process accessible to anyone who's interested.
"Is New Mexico really represented? I think so. It's a good process," he said.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Water Proposal Puts Pressure on N.M. Regulators

By Susan Montoya Bryan
Associated Press

New Mexico regulators listened to testimony Thursday from an environmental group that wants more protections than what state officials are proposing for headwater streams, lakes and wetlands across the state, while critics continued to hold out hope for intervention from the state's highest court.

The New Mexico Supreme Court cleared the way for the hearing to begin in Santa Fe earlier this week. But an attorney for the New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association said the court has yet to issue a final ruling on whether the state Environment Department's petition to designate the streams and lakes in a dozen wilderness areas as "outstanding national resource waters" meets regulations.

The court struck down a temporary restraining order so the hearing could begin, but it also requested the ranchers' group to file a response by Sept. 24.

Dan Dolan, an Albuquerque attorney who represents the group, told The Associated Press during a break in the hearing that he hopes the court's action means it will take a closer look at the state's proposal.

"It has been a moving target. They've changed it three separate times," Dolan said, adding that the public has not been given an adequate chance to comment on the latest version of the petition.

Supporters said they don't expect the court to interrupt the ongoing proceedings.

"I highly doubt that the Supreme Court would condone an attempt by a disgruntled party to silence the public's right to speak out in favor of clean water before an agency has even reached a decision. That would be quite the injustice," said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich of the Western Environmental Law Center.

The Richardson administration began pushing an outstanding waters designation in 2008. It would protect streams, lakes and wetlands by prohibiting any activities that would degrade water quality.

The first plan called for protecting all waters — even those that flow intermittently — in wilderness and roadless areas around the state. That was scaled back after concerns were raised during 11 public meetings and after state lawmakers came out in opposition.

More changes were made after a second round of public meetings last fall, and it wasn't until May that the state presented its final petition to the Water Quality Control Commission.

State officials testified this week that they have tried to address the public's concerns — including those of the ranchers' group and some water associations — and that development of the petition has been the most extensive public participation process the department has under taken for any water quality initiative.

Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, accused the department of going against the Legislature's intention by proceeding with the petition. More public meetings need to be held and the commission, which is appointed by the governor, should not be making decisions that have the potential to impact so many of the state's residents, he said.

"That's not right. The Legislature is the one that's empowered to do that type of stuff," Griego said.

The group WildEarth Guardians asked the commission Thursday to go beyond what the state was proposing and approve an amendment that would add 450,000 acres of adjacent roadless areas to the outstanding waters designation. The group contends those lands are also ecologically important.

The state's petition calls for designating as outstanding about 700 miles of rivers and streams, 29 lakes and more than 4,900 acres of wetlands in a dozen wilderness areas. The amendment would add another 800 miles of waterways.

Critics argued that the proposal is already too broad and that waters should be considered on an individual basis.

Dolan was also concerned about a letter sent to the commission by U.S. Forest Service regional officials days before the hearing said it was changing its position and would not be opposing the petition after all. The agency — which would be responsible for managing the headwaters under an outstanding designation — earlier questioned the accuracy of the state's maps and lack of water quality data for many of the nominated waters.

The Forest Service declined to immediately comment on the letter.

Dolan said ranchers and others who have Forest Service permits need to know how the agency plans to implement management practices in wilderness areas before an outstanding waters designation is approved.

"The cattle growers are not saying that we don't believe ONRW has value. What we're really saying is that we don't believe interjecting the U.S. Forest Service in this process makes a lot of sense," he said. "This could have a critical impact on a lot of livelihoods."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Judge orders agency to release Idaho ranchers' addresses

A U.S. District Court in Idaho ruled Monday that the public’s right to know outweighed personal privacy interests in a federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought against the Bureau of Land Management by two environmental groups, according to court documents.

In August 2007, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians filed a FOIA request for the identities of livestock grazing permit holders in an attempt to evaluate the bureau’s management of grazing on Idaho’s public lands. The bureau refused to disclose the contact information of its permit holders, citing FOIA Exemption 6, which allows government agencies to withhold “personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

The bureau was primarily concerned with the privacy of family-owned or closely-held ranching businesses. It claimed that the disclosure of individuals’ addresses, paired with already public information regarding the size of herds, could result in inferences being made regarding the individual’s personal finances.

The environmental groups filed suit under FOIA, arguing that releasing the names and addresses of grazing permit holders “would not reveal damaging, embarrassing, or specific financial information,” and thus did not constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. Moreover, the groups contended that a list of permit holders’ names, which the bureau was willing to disclose, is not enough to know the identities of permit holders, how many grazing authorizations were held by each and how many were grazing a single land allotment.

Judge Candy W. Dale balanced the privacy interests of Idaho’s grazing permit holders against the public interests of those wishing to shed light on the agency action related to the permitting scheme.

She found “a substantial public interest in understanding the scope of the grazing and rangeland program, particularly in light of the environmental impacts associated with grazing and the amount of tax dollars spent on the grazing program itself,” according to her opinion. Judge Dale also noted that with both a name and address, the public could determine if a permit holder was grazing on other allotments that have been classified as ecologically damaged.

The privacy interests of Idaho’s grazing permit holders, she ruled, were not threatened by the release of their addresses and were outweighed by the public interest. The documents were, therefore, ordered disclosed.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Two Court Victories for Western Watersheds Project

Western Watersheds Project Victorious in Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals & Wins Another Federal Court Settlement Against the Forest Service on 386 Allotments in Seven Western States.

Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Western Watersheds Project victory in Idaho District Court overturning the Bush Administration's attempt to fundamentally change federal grazing regulations impacting hundreds of millions of acres of public lands in the West. WWP was joined in this litigation by co-plaintiffs National Wildlife Federation, Idaho Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Idaho Conservation League, and famed Idaho conservationist and WWP Board member Dr. Ralph Maughan of Pocatello.

The Bush Era Grazing Regulations would have :

* Removed public involvement from grazing decisions affecting public lands and wildlife.

* Granted ranchers private property-interest in public livestock grazing installations and developments including fences, water developments, and buildings on public lands.

* Granted ranchers water-rights on public lands currently held in trust by the American public.

This significant victory at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is a welcome smack-down of Bush anti-environmentalism. The win emboldens public participation and accountability, stymies the most recent livestock industry land and water grab, and maintains public ownership of the West's vast water resources to benefit wildlife and future generations.

Thanks to our attorneys Laird Lucas of Advocates for the West, Joe Feller of Arizona State University Law School and Johanna Wald of the Natural Resources Defense Council for their excellent legal representation.

WWP would also like to acknowledge the decades-long legal work on the issue of public lands ranching by the late Tom Lustig of the National Wildlife Federation. Before his untimely death in May 2008 Tom provided invaluable legal counsel on this critical litigation.

Tom Lustig

Read the Decisionpdf

Western Western Watersheds Project Secures a Federal District Court Ordered Settlement with the Forest Service Halting the Agency's End-Run Around the National Environmental Policy Act in Authorizing Livestock Grazing on 386 Grazing Allotments Across the West.

WWP was joined in this litigation by Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, California Trout, Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Los Padres Forest Watch, Sierra Forest Legacy, Sequoia Forestkeeper, Grand Canyon Trust, Utah Environmental Congress, Red Rock Forests, and Oregon Natural Desert Association.

This significant victory affects livestock grazing administration on National Forests in Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico and California and will ensure compliance with the nation's most important environmental statute, NEPA.

Read the Court Orderpdf

Thanks to Laurie Rule of Advocates for the West's Boise office for her stellar legal representation in this case.

Jon Marvel
Executive Director

Nevada Department of Agriculture Brings Criminal Charges against BLM Employees

(Elko, NV) In a complaint filed by Blaine Northrup, Nevada State Brand Inspector, certain Battle Mountain BLM employees will be charged with violations of the Nevada brand law, including a Class C Felony.

The BLM employees in question were in the process of seizing livestock from Dalton Wilson’s ranch in an ongoing quiet title action and civil trespass case before Federal District Court Judge, Edward C. Reed. In an effort to obtain brand clearance certificates, a precursor for the lawful removal and transport of the horses in question, the BLM not only removed the horses from the property without authorization, but then misrepresented the facts to a state official to obtain his approval on the brand certificate.

In an August 26 letter to Ron Wenker, State Director of the Bureau of Land Management, Agriculture Department Director, Dr. Anthony Lesperance, notified the BLM that the Brand Department would not issue any further brand clearance certificates to the BLM, “until the above matter is explained to the Department’s satisfaction, and the Department receives the assurances that correct procedures will be followed henceforth by the BLM…. My policy is such that when facts are misrepresented in regard to brand inspection certificates, I automatically terminate any and all future brand inspection certificates with the party in question until such matter is fully resolved.”

Lesperance wrote, “My initial investigation of this matter indicates BLM employees not only committed fraud to a state official, they also appear to have clearly violated several other provisions of Nevada law and federal criminal statutes as well. This constitutes a serious breach of trust which I, as a state officer by virtue of my oath of office, cannot lawfully ignore. Mr. Blaine Northrop, of the Brands Division, is in the process of filing a criminal complaint against the BLM with the Lander County District Attorney in regard to these matters.”

The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 and Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 specifically reserves civil and criminal jurisdiction and police powers to the states respectively. “As a state official, it is my job to enforce the brand laws equally under the Equal Protection Under the Law Clause of the Constitution, and that includes federal employees,” wrote Lesperance.

A Nevada Dept. Ag press release'.

Sheriff Unger Abdicates Law Enforcement Duties to BLM; Armed BLM Bureaucrats Bulldoze Wilson’s Ranch

(Austin, NV) Tuesday, a private inspection of Dalton Wilson’s Grass Valley ranch with a sheriff’s escort revealed RS 2477 roads which were blocked by BLM employees, and that the BLM had bulldozed Wilson’s 100 year-old ranch and home.

Wilson has been in a David and Goliath battle with the BLM and Lander County to quiet title on 80 of 160 acres of what is known as the Brackney Ranch. The BLM sought Wilson’s forcible removal by charging him several years ago with criminal trespass. Wilson said, “I would be in jail right now”, if he hadn’t been acquitted by then Federal District Judge Sandoval, now running for Governor.

The BLM, not satisfied with Sandoval’s acquittal, charged Wilson again, this time with civil trespass raising the issue of double jeopardy. The new federal Judge, Edward C. Reed, rather than hearing the facts of the case, without allowing a single appearance by Wilson, issued what is tantamount to an edict from the bench ordering the removal of Wilson from his property. Wilson appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which granted a stay until the issues were resolved by the lower court and a final order issued. This stay was ignored by Judge Reed, the BLM, District Attorney Hy Forgeron, and Unger.

“In order to deprive anybody of life, liberty or property in this country, there has to be due process of law and that is what is lacking in this situation. There has been no final judgment, no mandatory abstract of judgment filed in the state, and there has been no writ of execution issued. Nobody is above the law, especially public officials,” remarked Ramona Morrison, Director, Nevada Live Stock Association.”

Morrison, who spoke with Unger Tuesday remarked, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse, especially when one has been entrusted to enforce it. The sheriff claims he was unaware of the stay. However, it is hard to believe he was unaware of Chapter 31 of the Nevada Revised Statutes which mentions the word “sheriff” 145 times, and specifically outlines his duties as sheriff to be present to enforce a writ of execution when property is confiscated.”

Unger was not present during the BLM raid to ensure there was a proper writ, to prevent the unlawful closure of the roads in Grass Valley, or to ensure the peace. “The same Federal Land Management and Policy Act of 1976 under which Wilson was charged with trespass not only protects preexisting rights owned by Wilson but specifically reserves civil and criminal jurisdiction and police power to the states. As a Nevada rancher who is runs cattle on BLM managed lands, I am concerned that Unger believes he is not responsible for keeping the peace on those lands, which is virtually all of Lander County, as state and federal law requires. We’ve had similar experiences with the Battle Mountain BLM office pertaining to preexisting rights. The sheriff’s job is to protect our Constitutional rights, they’ve sworn an oath to do so and they need to be held accountable,” remarked Mike Stremler, NLSA Director.

Wilson, an NLSA Director, who was denied access to his home during the raid, was deprived of his heart medication. He is now in an Ely hospital recovering from congestive heart failure.

“If Unger can ambivalently stand by, in a clear dereliction of duty, while Wilson’s property, livelihood and health are destroyed maybe it’s time for the citizens of Lander County to rethink Unger’s livelihood on the public taxpayer,” commented Don Alt, NLSA Chairman.
# # # # #

9732 State Route 445, #305 ž Sparks, Nevada 89436 ž 775.577.9048
Order and Mandate available upon request.
Contact: Dalton Wilson, 775.934.2281
Don Alt, 775.577.9048
Mike Stremler, 775.635.5445
Ramona Morrison 775.722.2517

Press Release from the NLSA