Continued from page 1

The Forest Service fence runs along the county line on the side of a mountain, which ranchers say creates a dangerous situation for cattle and motorists.

“So when the cows come down off the hill, they’re hitting the road and then they can’t get out of the way,” said Mr. Dunn. “People travel up and down that road, and there have been instances where cows get hit, people get property damage and injured by the fact that they’ve basically bottlenecked these cows onto a road.”

The Forest Service used to open the gates routinely to allow the cattle access to the creek, but critics say agency has become increasingly rigid in its dealings with the ranching community throughout the rural West.

“It’s not just the Forest Service,” said Mr. Dunn. “Since the beginning of the year on a lot of issues — Endangered Species Act issues, federal land-management issues, easements and use of federally controlled property — we’ve seen federal agencies become extremely defiant toward any sort of local input and extremely adverse to allowing people to continue to use things they’ve used in some instances for 100 years.”

He said there is speculation that John Podesta, who became White House senior counsel in December, initiated the tougher policies. A former head of the left-wing Center for American Progress, Mr. Podesta is known as a staunch environmentalist and hard-liner on climate change.

Local Forest Service employees have acknowledged that their orders are coming from Washington, Mr. Dunn said.

“The guys on the ground, the ones that we’re dealing with day to day, generally tend to be people that understand,” said Mr. Dunn. “Where we run into that rub is when the local person says, ‘If it were up to me, I’d be really happy to help you out, but D.C. is saying no, we have to do it this way, and I don’t have a choice.’ And they’re unable to cooperate at all now, because they’ve been told, ‘Don’t.’”

With summer fast approaching and no end to the drought in sight, ranchers worry that the cattle may not survive if they can’t find water.

Rancher Judyann Holcomb Medeiros, in testimony last week before the commission, said the Forest Service fence was “unfairly discriminatory against our water rights.”

“I love the land. It’s a wonderful place, and we take care of it and protect it, but it’s very detrimental to have our cattle fenced off water when we have a right to it,” Ms. Medeiros said.