- Associated Press - Thursday, May 29, 2014

RENO, Nev. (AP) - The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has agreed to let ranchers continue grazing cattle and sheep on more than 300 square miles of northern Nevada rangeland as long as lingering drought conditions don’t worsen.

But some ranchers say they don’t believe the temporary agreement is practical over the long term and they’re taking their concerns to Gov. Brian Sandoval in petitions being delivered in a Pony Express-style procession scheduled to arrive at the state capitol in Carson City on Friday.

Last weekend, BLM officials backed off earlier threats to force most if not all of the livestock off the Argenta grazing allotment in Humboldt and Lander counties.

Under a temporary agreement with the three largest permittees, grazing will be allowed to continue at existing levels but with the caveat the livestock must be removed within a week after range conditions deteriorate to the point they trigger a mandatory drought response.

Among other things, the height of grass stubble in riparian areas can’t drop below 4 inches.

“The 2014 agreements avoid issuance of a BLM grazing decision that would either temporarily close all or part of the allotment or require grazing permit terms to be temporarily modified in order to prevent drought related resource damage,” BLM spokeswoman Lesli Ellis-Wouters said.

“The federal grazing regulations specifically require BLM to temporarily close all or part of an allotment or modify management practices if it is determined that grazing use poses a likelihood of resource damage due to drought,” she said in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Most of the livestock impacted belong to Tomera Ranches - 11,890 out of the more than 13,000 Animal Unit Months (AUM) permitted. An AUM is the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, or one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month.

Pete Tomera of Battle Mountain was among those gathering signatures on horseback Thursday and could not be reached immediately for comment. But he said in a speech to supporters in Carlin on Monday they reluctantly agreed to the deal as an alternative to selling hundreds of cattle.

“The agreement BLM forced on us is not a good one. There are many unreasonable restrictions,” Tomera said at the rally in conjunction with a horseback ride from Elko to Battle Mountain dubbed the “Grass March.”

“We feel we are being set up for failure,” he said. “We feel the BLM is still using their heavy-handed efforts to keep us all under their control.”

Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber, organizer of the “Grass March,” said he modeled it after Gandhi’s legacy of non-violent civil disobedience, including the “Salt March” protesting Great Britain’s monopoly on India’s salt supplies in in 1930. Riders gathered signatures along the way on petitions urging a halt to BLM’s removal of cattle and the firing of BLM District Manager Doug Furtado.

Eddyann Filipini, whose Badger and Chiarra Ranches have nearly 1,500 AUMs in the Argenta allotment, said ranchers riding segments of the route in relays like the Pony Express reached Fallon on Thursday and should arrive at the statehouse in Carson City at 10 a.m. Friday.

Filipini said in a letter to the governor on May 23 that forage and grass is abundant in the area and that the BLM restrictions make no sense.

“I feel the actions of the Battle Mountain BLM are tyranny and blackmail,” said Filipini, whose family has been ranching in Nevada since the 1870s.

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