- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2001

RENO, Nev. (AP) Federal cattle seizures. Gun-toting ranchers. Government surveillance cameras in the desert.
Land management has always been a heated issue in the West, but the animosity is especially strong in Nevada, where ranchers are outraged over being punished for grazing on federal land without authorization.
"This is what the Revolutionary War was fought about, standing up against tyranny to defend life and liberty," said Janine Hansen, a conservative activist and an organizer of the Nevada Committee for Full Statehood.
The long-running land-management dispute pits Westerners who claim their property rights are being violated against federal officials who say they want to protect the environment.
In Oregon, disputes rage over irrigation water. In Northern California, logging is controversial. Livestock grazing is contentious in several Western states, including Nevada.
The state was the birthplace of the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s and 1980s, when miners and ranchers rallied to pressure state lawmakers to take control of public lands. Some say a similar rebellion is now under way.
At a recent rally in front of the federal courthouse in Reno, Miss Hansen and dozens of others waved the Nevada state flag and protested livestock-grazing policies enforced by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
They wore shirts that read "87 percent" the proportion of Nevada owned by the federal government. Their slogan: "Nevada is a state, not a territory."
"You're going to see a lot more of this," said Don Alt, a rancher from Silver Springs, Nev.
Bob Abbey, the BLM's director for Nevada, said the focus of the land debate should be on preserving the diverse resources of the state.
He also warns the activists are "jeopardizing the future of grazing on public lands," given the growing pressure from environmental groups to halt federal grazing entirely.
Activists are rallying behind Cliff Gardner of Ruby Valley, Nev., who was jailed briefly by a federal judge in Reno this month after he and 40 state's rights backers disrupted his trial for grazing on Forest Service land. Mr. Gardner faces up to six months in prison at his March 11 sentencing.
Protests also erupted after the BLM seized and auctioned off cattle from rancher Ben Colvin of Goldfield, Nev., who they said owed the government $73,000 in fines and fees for trespassing on federal land.
Activists are fighting to force the Forest Service to rebuild a washed-out road near Jarbidge, Nev., that the agency says would harm the threatened bull trout.
At 70 million acres overall, Nevada is more than twice as large as Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont combined.
But only 10 million acres are in private hands, giving Nevada the highest percentage of federal land of any state.
For decades, the government tended to give locals free access and use of federal land. But environmental laws in the 1970s tightened restrictions on land use.
Ranchers like Mr. Gardner many of them descendants of 19th-century pioneers say the federal government has no authority to keep them off public land.
"Our property, our livelihood, our ranch, which has been in the family since 1862, is on the Forest Service chopping block," he said.
Mr. Gardner, who is appealing last year's conviction, doesn't deny grazing his livestock without a permit on federal land. He argues the Forest Service has no authority to require one.
"It's been my objective since 1994 to get this question before the U.S. Supreme Court, but I realize to accomplish that is almost impossible," he said. "We're trying to make people understand that in dealing with the public lands, the Constitution has in effect been suspended."
But Mr. Abbey, of the BLM, doesn't see ranchers as victims fighting for their rights.
"I don't really even care to characterize these people as ranchers. They are trespassers," Mr. Abbey said. "What they are trying to do, quite frankly, is get something for free from the American taxpayers."

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