Rancher: Gov’t ‘Bullying People’ Who Have Been on Lands ‘for Generations’

By Penny Starr | July 28, 2014 | 3:56pm EDT

(AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Ranchers from Western states told Congress last week that they are routinely threatened and bullied by federal land management officials, including the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife.

“I sit before you today to let you know what’s going on up there, and I hope that we can come to some kind of agreement on what needs to be done and move forward on it, because enough is enough when it comes to bullying people that have been on this land for generations,” Michael Lucero, fourth generation rancher in New Mexico, said in his sworn testimony at the hearing of a House Natural Resources subcommittee on "Threat, Intimidation and Bullying by Federal Land Management Agencies, Part II."

Lucero said his family’s ranch was first established by a San Diego Land Grant and was eventually designated as land under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service. He claimed the federal government is “driving us completely from the land.”

“We feel that the government has taken away, and are still trying to take away, what is rightfully ours, from our grazing rights to our water rights,” Lucero said in his prepared remarks. “It seems that every year it gets more difficult to continue with our way of life and keep our heritage alive as the government is continually putting obstacles in our path.

“My mother’s family was driven out of the logging business when the Spotted Owl became an endangered species,” Lucero said. “They left the valley that they grew up in to find work elsewhere.”

Lucero said the Forest Service has used the “drought” to force ranchers to reduce their cattle herds and the Endangered Species Act to limit grazing on land in his state to protect the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse.

“This mouse hibernates about nine months a year and requires a 24-inch stubble height of dense grass,” Lucero said. “If we were not already providing the appropriate conditions, how can the” mouse be there?”

Jose J. Varela Lopez, who also is a 14th generation rancher in New Mexico, appeared on behalf of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association. Lopez testified that the “endangered species” was the “biggest culprit” in allowing the Fish and Wildlife Service to quash ranching activities.

“At the moment, the Fish & Wildlife Service is considering critical habitat for the lesser prairie chicken, the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse and two varieties of garter snakes,” Lopez said in his prepared statement. “Expansion of the Mexican wolf habitats is expected as early as tomorrow.

“We have had 764,000 acres in New Mexico and Arizona recently designated critical habitat for the jaguar although only a few male jaguars have been sighted in the U.S. over the last 60 years,” Lopez said.

“We are awaiting listings and designations for the Canadian lynx and the wolverine even though those species do not exist in our state,” Lopez said.

“Our government agencies are punishing natural resource users through unnecessary land use designations and restrictions, prompted mainly by radical environmental groups,” Lopez said. “This preservationist mentality is making it difficult, if not impossible, for renewable resource users to make a living, and is in effect extinguishing the customs and culture of our country’s land-based people.”

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), who chaired the hearing, said the witnesses would “continue to tell their stories to Congress.”

“During Part I of the hearing, the committee heard first-hand accounts of mistreatment at the hands of federal officials seeking to extort the witnesses into relinquishing their property rights,” LaMalfa said in his opening remarks.

“Government agencies, through individual and collective efforts, are actively using land designations and restrictions – prompted mainly by radical environmental groups – to curtail multiple use on federal land. State and local government have been subjects to threats, lack of cooperation and numerous unfair or heavy-handed tactics, which threaten public safety and threaten the livelihoods of communities, especially those in public land states,” LaMalfa said.

Ranking member Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), however, complained that members of the Obama administration were not invited to the hearing and so could not respond to the charges made by witnesses.

Grijalva also said that, for the most part, there are no issues arising from most of the 90 million acres -- mostly in the West -- that require federal grazing permits.

Moreover, he said the people own the land where these ranchers are living and working.

“It is the responsibility of the federal land management agencies and their employees to protect the land that is the property of the entire American people,” Grijalva said, noting that there are employees that “do not live up to that standard” in every organization.

Almost all of the witnesses on the two panels at the hearing called on the government to reprimand abusive employees and for Congress to “restore freedom” of ranchers, including Grant Garber, a Elko County, Nevada, Commissioner.

“In 1930, Gandhi began the Salt March that eventually gained freedom for the citizens of India,” Gerber said in his prepared testimony. “He said that it was the inalienable right of Indian citizens to have freedom and enjoy the fruits of their toil.

“Likewise the citizens of Nevada have the inalienable right to freedom and the fruits of their toil,” Gerber said. “The combined might of the Bureau of Land Management, especially BLM law enforcement and BLM managers like Mr. [Douglas] Furtado, are [depriving] Nevadans of their freedom and the fruits of their toil.

“Congress must act to restore freedom,” Gerber said.

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