News round-up: Bison, Pinyon-Juniper, and the FBI

Recent stories from DGR chapters and members:

  • Yellowstone National Park is proposing a 50 year bison quarantine plan. Quarantine is total human manipulation of wild, migratory bison and is a toxic mimic of true wildlife restoration, ending with domesticated bison living behind fences for the rest of their lives. The “big greens” are all supporting it. This is a “quick fix” that will give them false claims to victory, while seriously harming the integrity and culture of wild migratory buffalo. The bison need you to submit comments by February 15: Buffalo Field Campaign West Yellowstone Montana- Stop the Slaughter
  • Will Falk has written another essay in support of the DGR-led campaign to stop the destruction of Pinyon-Juniper forests in the Great Basin. His latest piece examines the history of collusion between the BLM and the ranching industry.
  • The FBI continues to harass aboveground activists:
  • Derrick Jensen interviews activists each week for Resistance Radio, engaging them in fresh discussions about the most pressing issues of the day. He’s interviewed several DGR members in the last two months, and all the interviews are worth hearing. Browse them at the Derrick Jensen Resistance Radio archive.

New Map shows US West Rangeland Health

Searchable BLM reports and satellite images for 20,000 grazing allotments

When the Bureau of Land Management ordered the removal of cattle from public rangeland this summer near Battle Mountain, Nevada, the state was in its third year of severe drought. Conditions were too dry to sustain the number of cattle that were grazing there, the BLM contended. Locals responded in part by announcing a “Cowboy Express” ride from Bodega Bay, California to Washington, DC to protest federal overreach and to demand that local District Manager Doug Furtado be ousted.

Disagreements like the one in Battle Mountain are hardly novel in Western politics. But this week, a new tool to understand livestock impact on public lands was thrown into the mix. Washington, DC-based non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) released an interactive map that collates over 45,000 BLM records that diagnose 20,000 allotments. The map is seven years in the making, the result of Freedom of Information Act requests PEER and Western Watersheds Project put to the BLM.

Read more at A new map shows rangeland health West-wide

Damage to the land from livestock can be seen in satellite images. Image by High Country News.
Damage to the land from livestock can be seen in satellite images. Image by High Country News.
Shaded areas indicate where rangeland has failed to meet BLM health standards between 1997 and 2013. Image by High Country News.
Shaded areas indicate where rangeland has failed to meet BLM health standards between 1997 and 2013. Image by High Country News.

Brazilian court suspends license for Belo Monte dam

By Glenn Scherer, Mongabay

Featured image: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff visits the construction site of the Belo Monte Dam, 2014. Photo by Ichiro Guerra/Sala de Imprensa licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license

The gigantic Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, located on the Xingu River in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, stood just weeks away from beginning operation this week — but the controversial mega-dam, the third largest on earth, has now been blocked from generating electricity by the Brazilian court system until its builders and the government meet previous commitments made to the region’s indigenous people.

Federal court judge Maria Carolina Valente do Carmo in the city of Altamira, in the state of Pará where the dam is located, has suspended the dam’s operating license. It will not be reinstated, she decided, until the dam’s owner Norte Energia SA, along with Brazil’s government, meet a 2014 court-ordered licensing requirement to reorganize the regional office of Funai, the national agency that protects Brazil’s indigenous groups.

Judge Valente do Carmo has fined the government and company R$900,000 (US$225,000) for non-compliance with the Funai requirement, a provision included in the rules governing Belo Monte when the project was given its preliminary license in 2010.

This is the latest in a series of snafus that have plagued the dam’s construction. Licensing of the project was delayed last September by Brazil’s environmental agency IBAMA, due to a failure to complete agreed to provisions to mitigate the impacts of inundating thousands of acres of Amazon rain forest — flooding that could displace 20,000 people.

Indigenous village near the Xingu River in the Amazon. Indigenous lands could soon be flooded by the Belo Monte dam. Photo by Pedro Biondi/ABr licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Brazil license.
Indigenous village near the Xingu River in the Amazon. Indigenous lands could soon be flooded by the Belo Monte dam. Photo by Pedro Biondi/ABr licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Brazil license.

Earlier in 2015, federal prosecutors found that Norte Energia violated 55 different obligations it had agreed to in order to guarantee the survival of indigenous groups, farmers and fishermen whose homes and lands will be lost.In December, Brazil’s Public Federal Ministry, an independent state body started legal proceedings to have it recognized that the crime of “ethnocide” was committed against seven indigenous groups during the building of the Belo Monte dam.

Indigenous groups have fought the dam since its inception, saying that it will severely impair their water supply and impact fishing and hunting. They especially contend that it will reduce the river’s flow by 80 percent at the Volta Grande (“Big Bend”), where indigenous Juruna and Arara people and sixteen other ethnic groups live, according to the teleSUR television network.

Partially republished with permission of Mongabay.  Read the full article at Brazilian court suspends operating license for Belo Monte dam

After the Last River

Guatemala: First Trial for Systematic Violations of Indigenous Women

Featured image: Indigenous woman testifies at a law court in Guatemala, 2012. Photo: Sandra Sebastián

Guatemala’s recent history bears the mark of a 36 year long, painful internal armed conflict, during which the State systematically violated the rights of the Mayan population.

According to the Report of the Commission for the Historical Clarification of Human Rights Violations in Guatemala, 83.3 percent of the human rights violations were committed against them.

Indigenous women have particularly suffered from the conflict. They have been victims of rape, abuse and sexual slavery.

WOMEN’S ALLIANCE AGAINST IMPUNITY

Women’s organizations have played an important role in spreading information on the legal actions and in collecting and documenting the testimonies of several of them, who are now over 50 and suffer from severe PTSD.

The Alianza Rompiendo el Silencio y la Impunidad (Alliance Breaking the Silence and Impunity), including organizations such as Mujeres Transformando el Mundo(Women Changing the World – MTM), the Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y de Acción Psicosocial (Community Studies and Psychosocial Action Team – ECAP) and the Unión Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas (National Union of Guatemalan Women -UNAMG) has been active since 2009 providing support to women and following up on the cases.

The three organizations play different roles in promoting public debate on the cases: MTM is in charge of the judicial strategy, ECAP offers psychosocial support to the victims and UNAMG works on the public stance of the plaintiffs.

SEPUR ZARCO: A CASE THAT MAY SET A PRECEDENT

Sepur Zarco is a community located on the border between the departments of Alta Verapaz and Izabal, in northern Guatemala. Six military detachments settled in this region during the internal armed conflict for the purpose of extermination and torture.

In 1982, the army captured the men of the Mayan community and their widows underwent domestic slavery, sexual violence and sexual slavery.

The abuses were committed by the army of Guatemala for six consecutive months, during which women did shifts every 3 days to cook and clean and wash military uniforms, and were individually and collectively raped over and over again.

Some of them described how they were injected and forced to take birth control medicines to prevent pregnancies.

After setting up a Tribunal of Conscience Against Sexual Violence in 2010, indigenous women decided to take the case to the formal justice system and filed a lawsuit in 2011.

The case is the first to reach the Guatemalan national courts for crimes of international significance against women.

As for its typification and in accordance with the Historical Clarification Commission, rape during the internal armed conflict was used in a widespread, massive and systematic way as part of the counterinsurgency policy of the State.

Therefore, sexual violence is a crime against humanity, a war crime and a constituent element of genocide.

In the post-conflict phase, though, sexual violence as a crime against humanity is still invisible.

That is why it is expected that the evidence and the proceedings will arouse national and international interest and allow for a new phase of discussion and historical reparation for fierce racism in the country.

The public trial will be held in Guatemala City on February 1, 2016. There are two defendants.

Guatemalan women’s organizations call on all stakeholders to make a positive contribution to the trial, to attend public hearings and duly oversee the proceedings.

Article first published in Spanish by Servindi. Translated by Open Democracy and republished by Intercontinental Cry under a Creative Commons License.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Denies Endangered Species Act Protection to Yellowstone Bison

Featured image: A bull buffalo lies dead, just outside Yellowstone’s north boundary.  Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign

On January 12, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) denied Endangered Species Act protection for the iconic Yellowstone Bison. The agency’s decision comes 14 months after Western Watersheds Project and Buffalo Field Campaign petitioned to list these bison as an endangered or threatened species. The groups sought federal protection for the Yellowstone bison because these unique bison herds are harmed by inadequate federal and state management and other threats. In the finding, the USFWS now agrees that the Yellowstone bison are a distinct population of bison, reversing its 2011 position.

“If buffalo are to recover as a wild species in their native ecosystem, science must prevail over politics,” said BFC Executive Director Dan Brister. “The best available science indicates a listing under the Endangered Species Act is necessary to ensure the survival of this iconic species.”

“Friends of Animals is committed to protecting the last wild bison in America. We are disappointed in USFWS’s finding and suspect that the decision was improperly influenced by the interests of private ranchers in the area. We are reviewing the agency’s decision and plan to take further legal action if necessary,” stated attorney Michael Harris of Friends of Animals Wildlife Law Program.

“We petitioned the USFWS to list the Yellowstone bison because of clear management inadequacies and growing threats to this key population of wild bison. The USFWS decision is disappointing because protection under the Endangered Species Act is the only way to counter the management inadequacies and growing threats,” stated Michael Connor of Western Watersheds Project.

The groups’ petition catalogues the many threats that Yellowstone bison face. Specific threats include: extirpation from their range to facilitate livestock grazing, livestock diseases and disease management practices by the government, overutilization, trapping for slaughter, hunting, ecological and genomic extinction due to inadequate management, and climate change.

Federal and state policies and management practices threaten rather than protect the Yellowstone bison and their habitat. Since 2000, more than 4,000 bison have been captured from their native habitat in Yellowstone National Park and slaughtered. The Forest Service issues livestock grazing permits in bison habitat. The states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming forcefully remove or kill bison migrating beyond the National Park borders.

Once numbering tens of millions, there were fewer than 25 wild bison remaining in the remote interior of Pelican Valley in Yellowstone National Park at the turn of the 20th Century. The 1894 Lacey Act, the first federal law specifically safeguarding bison, prevented the extinction of these few survivors.

The agency’s justification can be found online at:
http://buffalofieldcampaign.org/ESA_90_Day_Finding.pdf

The petition to list Yellowstone bison is available online at http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/ESAPetition20141113.pdf

Visit Buffalo Field Campaign for field updates

Police Intimidation: From Dalton Trumbo to Deep Green Resistance

By Mark Hand / CounterPunch

Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security agents have contacted more than a dozen members of Deep Green Resistance (DGR), a radical environmental group, including one of its leaders, Lierre Keith, who said she has been the subject of two visits from the FBI at her home.

The FBI’s most recent contact with a DGR member occurred Jan. 8 when two FBI agents visited Rachael “Renzy” Neffshade at her home in Pittsburgh, PA. The FBI agents began the visit by asking her questions about a letter she had sent several months earlier to Marius Mason, an environmental activist who was sentenced in 2009 to almost 22 years in prison for arson and property damage.

Neffshade told CounterPunch she refused to answer any questions from the FBI agents. Based on the line of inquiry, Neffshade concluded the FBI agents were not necessarily looking into gathering further information about Mason. “It seemed like they were pursuing an investigation into me, but who knows? I didn’t answer any of their questions,” she said. “It’s important to remain silent to law enforcement as an activist. It is a vital part of security culture.”

DGR, formed about four years ago, requires its members to adhere to what the group calls a “security culture” in order to reduce the amount of paranoia and fear that often comes with radical activism. On its website, DGR explains why it is important not to talk to police agents: “It doesn’t matter whether you are guilty or innocent. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. Never talk to police officers, FBI agents, Homeland Security, etc. It doesn’t matter if you believe you are telling police officers what they already know. It doesn’t matter if you just chit chat with police officers. Any talking to police officers, FBI agents, etc. will almost certainly harm you or others.”

Keith, along with Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay, co-authored a book published in 2011, Deep Green Resistance, on which the DGR group is largely based. DGR describes itself as an “aboveground organization that uses direct action in the fight to save our planet.” On its website, DGR states there is a need for a separate “underground that can target the strategic infrastructure of industrialization.”

In the “Deep Green Resistance” book, the authors ask, “What if there was a serious aboveground resistance movement combined with a small group of underground networks working in tandem?”

“[T]he undergrounders would engage in limited attacks on infrastructure (often in tandem with aboveground struggles), especially energy infrastructure, to try to reduce fossil fuel consumption and overall industrial activity,” the authors write in the book. “The overall thrust of this plan would be to use selective attacks to accelerate collapse in a deliberate way, like shoving a rickety building.”

In speeches and writings, Jensen, a co-leader of DGR, often ponders this question: “Every morning when I wake up I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam.” He also has argued about the necessity of using any means necessary “to stop this culture from killing the planet.” Jensen said he has not been questioned by the FBI about his involvement with DGR. He is also unaware of any DGR members who have been arrested for their work with the group.

In late 2014 and early 2015, the FBI contacted about a dozen DGR members either by telephone or through in-person visits. Max Wilbert, a professional photographer and one of the founding members of DGR, said the FBI contacted him on his cell phone during this period. “I immediately said that I wasn’t going to answer any questions and hung up the phone,” Wilbert told CounterPunch. “This is the best way to deal with this sort of government repression. As soon as they know that you will answer questions, they will keep coming after you.” If activists refuse to answer questions, the FBI or other police agencies are more likely to leave the person alone, he said.

In September 2015, Wilbert was among a group of DGR members detained at the U.S.-Canada border as they were on their way to attend a speech by author Chris Hedges in Vancouver, British Columbia. The group was eventually denied entry into Canada.

Wilbert said the Canadian border guards seemed to be searching for a reason to deny the DGR members entry. After focusing on some women’s self-defense gear in the car (some people in the vehicle were planning to offer a free class on self-defense in British Columbia), the border guards’ questions started turning to each person’s activism.

Making sure he was honest with the officers, Wilbert told the Canadian border guards that he had volunteered to take photographs of Hedges’ scheduled speech. “They said that they suspected I was entering the country to work illegally,” he said.

After getting turned back by the Canadian guards, the vehicle’s occupants faced additional scrutiny by U.S. border agents. At the U.S. border, the questions became much more political in nature. The U.S. guards asked Wilbert and his colleagues about the groups they belonged to and the ideas that these groups promoted. “Officers from the Canadian side even came over and spoke with the U.S. officers about us,” he said.

U.S. border guards confiscated Wilbert’s laptop computer. “Under U.S. law, they can legally copy your entire hard drive and keep the contents for something like 30 days,” he said. After a few hours, the border guards returned the computer. But Wilbert chose to get rid of the laptop after the search because he was concerned the government agents had tampered with it.

The Department of Homeland Security also has demonstrated an interest in the environmental group. DGR member Deanna Meyer, who lives in Colorado, was asked by a DHS agent during a visit to her home if she would be interested in “forming a liaison,” according to a July 6, 2015, article in Earth Island Journal. The agent reportedly told Meyer he wanted to “head off any injuries or killing of people that could happen by people you know.” Meyer refused to cooperate with the DHS agent.

Wilbert views the federal police agencies’ ongoing actions against DGR members as harassment and intimidation. “It makes a mockery of free speech and democracy. We may advocate for radical and revolutionary ideas, but our work is legal. We are nonviolent. We are peaceful people,” he said.

The federal government’s treatment of DGR members is similar in some ways to how political activists were treated during the Red Scare era of the 1950s, contended Wilbert.  A relative of blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo is a member of DGR and a friend of Wilbert’s.  Her childhood was marked by government surveillance, blacklisting and intimidation, he said. Pointing to Dalton Trumbo and other victims of the McCarthyite period, Wilbert emphasized these tactics are not new.

“This government uses intimidation and violence because these tactics are brutally effective. For me and the people I work with, we expect pushback,” Wilbert said. “That doesn’t make it easy, but in a way, this sort of attention validates the fact that our strategy represents a real threat to the system of power in this country. They’re scared of us because we have a plan to hit them where it hurts.”

The police scrutiny of DGR members is continuing at the same time local and federal police agencies maintain a hands-off approach to the takeover of a federal government installation in eastern Oregon by an armed right-wing militia. Some of the militia members claim they would be willing to kill if police attempted to end their occupation of the federal wildlife refuge.

If environmental activists staged an armed occupation of a coal-fired power plant, coal export terminal, or hydroelectric facility in the Western United States, they would be subject to an intense and immediate response by police agencies, Wilbert said. “The federal government doesn’t really give a damn, by and large, about what happens in the open West, at least when it’s wealthy white people doing the occupying,” he said. “But any occupation that actually threatened their power would see swift retribution. That is one of the main jobs of the police: to protect the rich and business interests against the people.”

DGR has learned that the “Deep Green Resistance” book is part of the FBI’s library at the agency’s offices in Quantico, Va. “They’re definitely aware of us. We have filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out what kind of information the FBI is gathering,” Wilbert said. “But those requests were denied because they involve active investigations.”

When FBI agents visited her home in Pittsburgh, Neffshade said she felt fear during the questioning. She tried to remain calm. “I felt pressure to respond to their questions because, hey, I’ve been taught that it’s rude to just stand in silence when someone is speaking to you,” she explained. “I maintained silence long enough to gather my thoughts about which phrases are appropriate to say to law enforcement. After they left, I felt shaky and had to fight off feelings of paranoia.”

Before they left, the FBI agents handed Neffshade a business card and said, “If you change your mind, here is contact information.” Neffshades immediately contacted members of DGR to let them know the FBI had showed up on her doorstep.

While the FBI visit will make her more careful about what she writes in letters to prisoners, Neffshade said she has no plans to retreat from her involvement with DGR.

Mark Hand has reported on the energy industry for more than 25 years. He can be found on Twitter @MarkFHand.

Snow vs. Suicide: A Homecoming

By Will Falk / Deep Green Resistance

Featured image: Utah snow by Max Wilbert

Sitting on the patio at the Park City Library on a crisp September afternoon, I admire the beauty of this season’s new dusting of snow on mountains awash in the golds, reds, and greens of fall. I arrived in Park City last week thinking I will live in Utah again for the first time in almost 10 years.

The mountains’ timelessness makes it hard to believe its been 10 years since I packed my parents’ 1992 black Chevy suburban on a cold December night in Cedar City in 2005 before making the long drive to Iowa to be closer to my family in the Midwest. The joy that the sight of new snow has always produced for me makes it hard to believe its been 10 years since I last watched the good, thick Utah snow gather behind me to cloud the scene from my rear-view mirror as I pulled away softening the reminders of what and who I left behind.

Almost immediately after recognizing this beauty, I feel a deep pang of anxiety. I have been reading about the impacts climate change will have on Utah’s snow. I know, for example, that many scientists agree with Porter Fox, the author of DEEP: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow, that there will be no snow in Utah by the end of this century if climate change cannot be stopped.

My memories make it incredibly painful to imagine a Utah without snow, but this is the reality confronting us. Loving the snow as I do and understanding what the snow means to both humans and non-humans in Utah, I cannot help but call human-produced climate change “suicidal.”

***

I am intimately familiar with suicide. Sometime in the ten years after leaving Utah, I developed what my doctors have called “major depressive disorder.” When I was a public defender in Kenosha, WI, I tried to kill myself in April, 2013 and, again, in August, 2013.

I have spent the last two years trying to understand the darknesses that lead me to attempt to take my own life those two times. I’ve always possessed a certain type of melancholy, but it takes more than a simple disposition for melancholy to develop into suicidal depression.

Many theories exist for why I took the road to attempted suicides.

First, I have a history of traumatic head injuries including a brain contusion I suffered in a high school football game. I cannot remember what happened, but the next morning I do remember watching the game film and seeing my head bounce like a ball on the turf after being knocked completely off my feet. I do not know if I suffered full-blown concussions playing college football at the University of Dayton, but I do remember my head hurting an awful lot. This theory supports the view that depression is truly a mental illness. My doctors tell me my brain struggles to recycle serotonin and this could be a result of the head injuries.

Another theory roots the depression I experience in my history of disconnection from any one place. I’ve never lived anywhere for long and this perpetual moving creates a feeling of spiritual vertigo for me. I was born in Evansville, IN, moved to Bedford, IN, moved to Salt Lake City, went to Cedar City, UT, re-joined my family in Waterloo, IA, headed to Dayton for college, then Madison, WI for law school, and on to Milwaukee to work in the public defender’s office. I lived in all of these places before I was 26. Each uprooting came with its own specific pains. Eventually, however, like a plant who will not take to new soil, I rejected the idea I could ever grow roots anywhere.

The final theory for my suicide attempts- and the one that makes the most sense to me – points to an overwhelming mixture of exhaustion, guilt, and despair I built as a public defender watching client after client dragged away to prison while I woke every morning to read news reports of ever more environmental destruction. I worked 60 and 70 hour weeks and it never seemed to matter. I could not keep my clients out of prison. I brought my case files home and some nights woke up at 3 AM to get a head start on the day. The more I lost, the stronger my feelings of guilt grew. It was my fault. I needed to work harder. The harder I worked, the more exhausted I became. The more exhausted I became, the harder it was to fight the guilt. The more guilt I felt, the harder I told myself I needed to work.

On top of this, I recognized – and still do – the fact that the planet’s life support systems are under attack by forces like climate change causing a growing number of scientists to predict human extinction by as soon as 2050. Carcinogens have seeped so deeply into the earth that every mother in the world has contaminants like dioxin in her breast milk; humans have successfully poisoned the most sacred physical bond between mother and child.

Meanwhile, nearly 50 percent of all other species are disappearing. Between 100-200 species a day are going extinct around the world. One quarter of the world’s coral reefs have been murdered. In the United States, alone, 95% of old growth forests are gone. In 70 countries worldwide there are no longer any original forests at all.

I often try to apologize for listing off these facts, or explain that perhaps I fixate on these things because I have a mental illness. I will not do that any longer. These atrocities are happening. Unless you are a sociopath, to truly contemplate these facts, to understand what they mean, to feel their implications comes with a profound emotional cost. I might have a mental illness, but it is natural to feel despair when confronted with the possibility of the destruction of all life on the planet.

***

I return to Utah after spending two years on the road supporting indigenous-led land-based environmental struggles. Why, just months after trying to commit suicide, did I set out for the front lines of the environmental movement?

Well, my experiences tell me that emotional states like despair, by themselves, are illusions and cannot hurt me on their own. Afflicted as I often am with a poor self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy, I learned that even when those thoughts arise, I do not have to entertain them. I can let them flash across the movie screen in my mind without ever attaching any meaning to them.

Despair by itself cannot kill me. I can kill me. Feeling the despair, I can grind several pills into powder, snort the powder to numb the pain, and then drink down the rest of the pills. Similarly, feeling the despair, I could put a gun to my temple or jump from a bridge. But, in each of these cases, it will not be the despair that kills me. It will be a physical action that kills me.

I find this realization to be deeply empowering. While I cannot always control my emotional state, I can control my actions. No matter how much despair I feel, I can refuse to act on that despair. Following this idea, I started to understand that I was not going to heal my mental illness with thoughts alone. I was not going to think my way out of depression. In order to heal, I needed to take tangible steps to alleviate the despair I was feeling.

First, I went up to central British Columbia to volunteer at the Unist’ot’en Camp. The Unist’ot’en Camp is an indigenous cultural center and pipeline blockade on the traditional, unceded territory of the Unist’ot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation. I helped to build a bunkhouse on the precise GPS coordinates of a pipeline that would carry fossil fuels from the Fort McMurray tar-sands in Alberta over Unist’ot’en territory to a refinery in Kitimat, BC where the fossil fuels would be processed and shipped to be burned in markets world wide. I helped to break trails and walked the trapline on Unist’ot’en territory in the winter. Most of my time was spent sleeping on floors and couches in Victoria, BC as I volunteered for fundraising and organizing efforts to support the Camp.

I ran out of money in Canada and found it difficult to find work as a non-citizen, so I returned to my parents’ home in San Ramon, CA. Before long, though, I was encouraged to head to Hawai’i to write about Kanaka Maolis’ (native Hawaiian’s) efforts to prevent the Thirty Meter Telescope from being constructed on the summit of their most sacred mountain, Mauna Kea. I spent 37 nights at 9,200 feet sleeping on the cold ground. I saw more snow than beaches in Hawai’i and was present when the police tried to force a way through 800 Kanaka Maoli as they blocked the construction equipment from gaining Mauna Kea’s summit. The police arrested 12 people that day, but were forced to turn back when boulders were rolled into the one road leading to the construction site.

Sometimes people try to thank me for my environmental activism. I always want to tell them not to thank me. I had to do it. All the thanks should go to the Unist’ot’en Clan and Kanaka Maoli for their bravery in protecting the Earth.

There’s a darker side to my decision to give up on a mainstream lifestyle to more effectively support environmental causes. I quit my job, gave up my apartment lease, sold my car, and broke up with the woman I was dating (a woman who stayed with me through the suicide attempts) in order to take off for Canada. It was not long before my money ran out and I was relying entirely on the generosity of others to help me along the way.

There are times when I wonder if it really is all that brave to turn my back on the normal responsibilities adults in this culture must attend to for basic survival. Getting a real job terrifies me. Maybe all I was doing on the road was avoiding putting my life back together after the suicide attempts?

***

While I ponder the snow from the Park City Library, I am reminded that I should be working on several of the online content writing gigs I have taken in an effort to re-build a sustainable income for myself. While I was on the road, I got sick of being broke. I became profoundly lonely for familiar places. I began to crave consistency in my day-to-day life.

I have a friend here in Park City, for example – the truest kind of friend who earned my trust after years of selfless communication and sincere concern for my well-being – who reminded me while I was on the road that I was always welcome in Utah. Her words were deeply encouraging, but I also knew I might not have enough money to get to Utah to see her. The truth is, to maintain relationships, you have to – at least sometimes – see those you seek relationship with.

The content writing gigs are a reminder of the long path facing me back to financial self-sufficiency. I would be lying if I did not confess the despair I sometimes feel when I realize just how out of control I let my personal life get. My student loans did not pay themselves. My resume can not magically produce an explanation for the hole in my work history. I still do not have enough money in my bank account to pay a first month rent and deposit to secure my own place to live.

Looking at my situation, the darkness begins to creep back in. I feel a deep sense of guilt wondering if I’ve sold out the environmental movement in order to build a community for myself. What right do I have to slow down right now? How can I look the Unist’ot’en Clan or Kanaka Maoli in the eye while their homes are under attack and I’m writing content for personal injury lawyers? Seeing the beauty of the snow on Park City’s peaks, knowing Utah may soon be too hot for snow to exist, why am I not running back to the front lines?

When these thoughts begin to spiral, I know I am in danger. I begin to hear that old whispering suggesting a way out. I remember that there is a route to numb this confusion. It would not take too much of an effort to make it all fade away.

There the snow is again, though, and I know I will never try to kill myself again. I see the dark, heavy clouds weighing on the mountains’ shoulders. The chill in the air is a comfort because it brings the promise of water. As the powder spreads down the mountainsides, I know for another season, at least, there will be snowmelt, the streams will swell, and life will flourish across the land.

The snow in Park City brings a lesson. The snow is the future. Where there is snow, there is water and where there is water, there is life. Despair is the inability to see a livable future. Those who are destroying the planet are also destroying our future. When they clear-cut a forest, they clear-cut the future for those living in the forest. When they dam a river, they dam that river’s future. When they burn their fossil fuels and boil the Earth’s temperatures so that the snow in Park City disappears, they’re burning and boiling Park City’s future.

The snow, then, gives me my medicine for despair. The snow is the future. Fight for the snow, fight to ensure that the snow will continue to fall, and seeing the snow fall will bring the ability to see a livable future.

2.10 Wasatch, La Sals 041
Colorado Plateau, southern Utah

Thoughts of suicide still sometimes fleet across my mind. Suicide’s mystique fades after you’ve gone through the spiritual process and the physical actions to produce your own death. The scariest part about it is that it really isn’t that scary at all. Suicide can come so easily.

But, the snow falls, and I know I cannot help the snow if I am dead. I am still engaged in war with my own demons and have had to re-consider my capacity, but if I can defeat those demons maybe I can become a stronger activist than I ever thought possible. The snow is too beautiful, the joy I feel seeing the snow is too strong, and the first stirrings of a feeling of belonging in Park City are too compelling for me to ever give in like that again.

Biographical Note: Will Falk is a former public defender turned environmental writer and activist. He has been engaged in support for aboriginal sovereignty on the front lines at the Unist’ot’en Camp in so-called British Columbia and on Mauna Kea in Hawai’i. He is in the process of moving to Park City, Utah.

The Ugly Underbelly of Corporations’ Pursuit of a Coal Terminal

Featured image: September 21, 2012: Members of the Lummi Nation protest the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point by burning a large check stamped “Non-Negotiable.” The tribe says they want to protect the natural and cultural heritage of the site.  Photo by Indian Country Today Media Network.

By Sandy Robson / Coal Stop

The Lynden Tribune newspaper made the decision to publish a December 23, 2015 opinion piece submitted by Chair John Huntley and President Brad Owens of the Northwest Jobs Alliance (NWJA). The NWJA advocates for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) project. Their op-ed leveled unsubstantiated, defamatory allegations at unnamed “leadership” of the Lummi Nation, a self-governing Indian Nation, and those allegations could easily be perceived as having been leveled at Lummi Nation as a whole.

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Canoe and murals in the Lummi Administrative Building

The Lummi, a Coast Salish people, are the original inhabitants of Washington state’s northernmost coast and southern British Columbia. The Lummi Reservation is located in western Whatcom County, and it is governed by the Lummi Indian Business Council (LIBC), an eleven member tribal council.

lynden tribune nwja op ed onlineNWJA’s December 23, 2015 Lynden Tribune op-ed claimed that “the current leadership of the Lummi Nation has embarked upon a campaign against the working families of Whatcom County.” In an attempt to support that inflammatory claim, NWJA pointed to a December 10, 2015 letter from Kirk Vinish of the Lummi Nation’s Planning Department. However, a review of that 2-page letter produced no evidence to support such a claim.

In contrast, NWJA has left a trail of evidence demonstrating its continued pattern of negative messaging to raise resentment about, and discredit, the Lummi Nation’s opposition to GPT by sending accusatory letters  to the Army Corps and Whatcom County, and by disseminating similar accusatory messaging to the public, via the NWJA email list and a press release sent to local media.

In NWJA’s opinion piece, Huntley and Owens also alleged that Lummi Nation leaders are proposing the elimination of existing Cherry Point industry jobs. They provided no evidence whatsoever to support such a claim.

nwja dec 22 comment to planning

Excerpt from NWJA’s December 22 comment letter to the Whatcom County Planning Commission

As if it weren’t bad enough that NWJA submitted its defamatory op-ed for publication in a local newspaper, the Alliance launched a second strike aimed at Lummi Nation leadership the day before, by submitting a December 22 comment letter to the Whatcom County Planning Commission, on the currently ongoing Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan Update.

The comment letter was a slightly revised version of NWJA’s op-ed published in the Lynden Tribune, containing the same unsubstantiated accusations. NWJA’s inflammatory comment letter is now part of the official public comment record for the County Comprehensive Plan Update which the Whatcom County Council will review prior to voting on the final language to be included in the plan update. The fact that the Council is also one of the decision makers on permits needed by PIT for its GPT project makes NWJA’s comment letter “comprehensively” reprehensible.

GPT threatens Lummi treaty rights

GPT would be sited along the Salish Sea shoreline, at Xwe’chi’eXen, part of the Lummi Nation’s traditional fishing area. Xwe’chi’eXen is the Lummi peoples’ ancestral name for Cherry Point, an area which has a deep cultural, historic and spiritual significance to the Lummi people, as it was a village site for their ancestors for over 175 generations.

The projected coal export terminal threatens Lummi treaty rights, the salmon they depend on, their Schelangen (“Way of Life”), and the cultural integrity of Xwe’chi’eXen. LIBC Chairman Tim Ballew II sent a January 5, 2015 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Seattle District Commander, Colonel John G. Buck, asking the agency to take immediate action to deny the GPT permit application.

In that letter, Chairman Ballew stated that the GPT project “will directly result in a substantial impairment of the treaty rights of the Lummi Nation throughout the Nation’s ‘usual and accustomed’ fishing areas.” Ballew also wrote that “The Lummi Nation is opposed to this project due to the cultural and spiritual significance of Xwe’chi’eXen, and intends to use all means necessary to protect it.” He added that the Lummi Nation has a sacred obligation to protect Xwe’chi’eXen based on that significance.

sacred place violated

Page excerpt from “Protecting Treaty Rights, Sacred Places, and Lifeways: Coal vs. Communites,” presented by Jewell James, Lummi Tribal Member and Head Carver, Lummi Tribe’s House of Tears Carvers

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“the Corps”) is the federal agency tasked with coordinating and handling the environmental review for the GPT project, and it is legally obligated to ensure that the Lummi Nation’s treaty rights are protected, and are not violated. Currently, the Corps is in the process of making a determination as to whether impacts to any tribes’ U&A (usual and accustomed) treaty fishing rights are more than de minimis, meaning too small or trivial to warrant legal review.

article 6 of the constitution

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution which includes the clause that establishes treaties made under its authority, are the supreme law of the land

SSA Marine consultant Craig Cole, Director for NWJA

The Northwest Jobs Alliance (NWJA) was created to promote and advocate for the GPT project. For the first few years, NWJA consisted solely of a Facebook page, after that page had been created in May of 2011. NWJA’s original mission statement that had been displayed for years on its Facebook page read: “The Alliance focuses their efforts on supporting the Gateway Pacific Terminal. . .”  For almost three years, NWJA’s Facebook page showed “www.gatewaypacificterminal.com” as its website address, and the phone number displayed had been a non-working number.

Several articles appeared in Whatcom County citizen-based publications during the summer and fall of 2014, criticizing the legitimacy of the NWJA and likening it to a front group, as it did not have a working phone number or a website other than the official GPT website. Subsequently, NWJA made some changes. In fall of 2014, the NWJA added a working phone number, created a website for its online presence, and changed its listed website address on its Facebook page from “gatewaypacificterminal.com” to “NWJA.org.”

Presently, the NWJA website states the following as its mission: “The Northwest Jobs Alliance (NWJA) promotes the growth of family-wage jobs in the context of sound environmental practice.” Also, there is no mention of GPT on the NWJA website’s Home page where the organization’s mission and focus are explained. Instead the general term “Cherry Point industrial area” is used.nwja registrationOn October 23, 2014, NWJA was filed as a non-profit corporation, according to the Washington Secretary of State website. SSA Marine’s paid local consultant for the GPT project, Bellingham resident Craig Cole, is the listed Director for NWJA.

nwja leaders photosSince its inception, NWJA has had a steady turnover of co-chairs, all of whom have been very public advocates for the GPT project. Presently, Brad Owens is listed as NWJA President and John Huntley is listed as NWJA Chair. Huntley owns Mills Electric, a Bellingham electrical contracting company. Owens, a Bellingham resident, is the past President of the NW Washington Building & Construction Trades Council.

Some people confuse the “Northwest Jobs Alliance” for another similarly titled GPT advocacy organization called the “Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports.” It’s worthwhile to distinguish between the two, although promoting the GPT project has been the central intended purpose of both groups.

Cloud Peak Energy and BNSF govern Alliance for NW Jobs & Exports

The Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports (ANWJE) was first presented to the public as a grass-roots organization, when it was actually created in 2012, by Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm, which was hired by SSA Marine to do public relations work for the proposed GPT project.

anwje registrationAccording to the Washington Secretary of State website, ANWJE was filed as a non-profit corporationin July 2012. The “Governing Persons” listed are Todd O’Hair and Zak Andersen. Todd O’Hair is currently Senior Manager, Government Affairs for Cloud Peak Energy Inc. which has a 49% stake in SSA Marine/PIT’s GPT project. Zak Andersen is presently Assistant Vice President, Community and Public Affairs for BNSF Railway. anwje governing personsBNSF is the applicant for GPT’s interrelated Custer Spur project and would be the railway transporting coal mined in Montana and Wyoming to GPT. ANWJE’s website describes its group as a “non-profit trade organization that supports new export projects in Oregon and Washington State…”

BNSF Railway, SSA Marine, and Cloud Peak Energy are listed on the ANWJE’s membership list, which is comprised of companies and other entities which stand to benefit financially from the coal export terminal. So, this “non-profit trade organization” was created by the public relations firm hired by the GPT applicant, and it is governed by an employee of BNSF, the applicant for the interrelated Custer Spur project, and by an employee of Cloud Peak Energy, which has a 49% stake in SSA Marine/PIT’s GPT project.

NWJA’s attempt to drive public opinion against Lummi opposition to GPT

Whatcom Tea Party board member Kris Halterman hosts a local Whatcom County KGMI talk radio show, “Saturday Morning Live” (SML). On her September 12, 2015 SML show, Halterman hosted NWJA President Brad Owens, and together, they advanced an unsubstantiated, defamatory assertion that NWJA (the entity behind the Lynden Tribune op-ed) had previously purported in its August 20, 2015 letter to the Corps—that there is “an apparent motive behind the Lummi Nation’s opposition to the Gateway Pacific Terminal project (and completion of the EIS process)not connected with treaty rights.” [italicized emphasis theirs]

Joining in those activities against Lummi opposition to GPT, was the Political Action Committee SAVEWhatcom, headed up by Halterman, whose name pops up in most everything GPT-related. The SAVEWhatcom PAC was the vehicle for Gateway Pacific coal terminal interests to fund 2013 and 2014 local Whatcom County election political campaigns with over $160,000, which, if successful, would benefit those interests.

how ironic save whatcom

February 5, 2015 post from the SAVEWhatcom Facebook page

One month after the LIBC’s January 5, 2015 letter to the Corps, Halterman’s SAVEWhatcom placed a February 5 post on its Facebook page which disparaged the Lummi Nation and its Silver Reef Casino in what appeared to be an attempt to drive public opinion against the Lummi Nation’s strong oppositional stance to GPT.

Then, in an August 12, 2015 comment letter to the Whatcom County Planning Commission, NWJA seemed to pit “working families” who were characterized in the letter as “some of the very people who patronize Lummi enterprises”— against what was described as “tribal aspirations.” Echoing that previous tack of drawing attention to the Lummi Nation’s enterprises while at the same time denigrating the Nation with groundless claims, the NWJA referenced the Lummi Nation’s Silver Reef Casino in their December 23, 2015 Lynden Tribune op-ed. That excerpt read:

“And it saddens us to observe that the current leadership of the Lummi Nation has embarked upon a campaign against the working families of Whatcom County. These are some of the very families that patronize the Silver Reef Casino and other Lummi enterprises. Some thanks.”

Those specific repeated references to the Lummi Nation’s Silver Reef Casino and enterprises by SAVEWhatcom and the SSA Marine consultant-led NWJA, could be viewed as attempts to drive public opinion against the Lummi Nation’s Silver Reef enterprises—trying to change the minds of the Silver Reef’s loyal patrons who enjoy the hotel, spa, casino, entertainment/shows, multiple restaurants, convention and event venue, and more.

NWJA omits important statistics

NWJA’s December 23 opinion piece failed to mention that the Lummi Nation’s Silver Reef Hotel Casino & Spa employs 675 people. It also failed to mention any of the significant contributions from the Lummi Nation to Whatcom County’s community at large, which certainly have a positive impact on countless families and individuals in Whatcom County. For example, LIBC Chairman Tim Ballew stated in a May 2015 piece in The Bellingham Herald, that Lummi Nation was “humbled and honored to be able to give back to the people who work so hard to make our community thrive,” when referring to its Nation’s donations of over $600,000 awarded to 43 organizations. Some of those organizations include the Bellingham Food Bank, the Whatcom Literacy Council, and Whatcom County Fire District 8, to name a few.

NWJA stated in its December 23 op-ed and its December 22 comment letter to the County Planning Commission, that “Whatcom County ranks 30th out of 39 counties for personal income growth [Bellingham Herald 11/19/15].” In reading The Bellingham Herald article cited as a source for that statistic, NWJA did not bother to inform readers that while the per capita personal income average in Whatcom County increased 3.2% from 2013 to 2014, placing it 30th out of 39 counties in the state, Whatcom County’s 2014 per capita income total ranks 16th highest out of Washington’s 39 counties.

lummi planning letter to county planning

Excerpt from December 10, 2015 comment letter submitted to Whatcom County Planning and Development by the Lummi Nation Planning Department

In its December 23 op-ed, and in its December 22 comment letter NWJA sent to the Planning Commission, Huntley and Owens referenced specific language from the December 10, 2015 comment letter from Lummi Nation’s Planning Department submitted to Whatcom County Planning and Development. The specific language was a new policy that Lummi Nation recommended be added to the County Comprehensive Plan:

“The shipment of coal, or crude oil, from any new shipping terminal or pier, or any existing terminal or pier, is prohibited.” Huntley and Owens said they were troubled by the Lummi Nation’s recommendation and wrote:

“This echoes previous requests that the Lummi have made to the County to begin phasing out the Cherry Point heavy industrial zone.” No evidence, however, was provided by the NWJA to show any previous, or even current, requests from Lummi Nation to begin phasing out the Cherry Point heavy industrial zone.

The underbelly of their reasoning

One particular statement NWJA made in its August 12, 2015 comment letter to the County Planning Commission revealed the underbelly of their reasoning:

“The Lummi occupy an important and unique role in our community, but they are just 1.5% of the County’s population.”

NWJA repeated similar statements in its August 27, 2015 email advertisement disseminated via its mailing list, and in its September 10, 2015 press release, potentially indicating to their audiences a reason to marginalize and dismiss Lummi Nation’s voice based on the Lummi’s minority population status.

Just as “Manifest Destiny” mandated that it was supposedly God’s providence that the U.S. should exercise hegemony over its neighbors—seeing North America as the new Promised Land, NWJA and the GPT corporate interests they advocate for, seem to believe that it’s their economic providence to exercise hegemony over the Lummi Nation—seeing Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point) and its naturally occurring deep-water contours which allow for huge Capesize vessels stuffed with U.S. coal bound for Asia, as their new Promised Land.

The Lummi Nation, however, and countless people in the Pacific Northwest region, have a very different view of their destiny, and that view does not include the transporting, handling, and shipping of 48 million metric tons per year of coal to Asia, which is the plan for GPT.

Raising resentment of tribal treaty rights; encouraging the public and government officials to ignore tribal treaty rights; calling into question the motivation behind an Indian Nation’s exercising of its tribal treaty rights; interfering with the federal regulatory review process and the government to government relationship between a U.S. federal agency and Indian Tribes and Indian Nations; and making disparaging and unsubstantiated accusations against an Indian Nation and its leaders, are some of the various ways in which the Lummi Nation is being attacked as powerful corporations endeavor to realize their perceived manifest destinies, in pursuit of a coal export terminal at Xwe’chi’eXen.

BLM Leadership Coddles Hostile and Law Breaking Nevada Ranchers like Cliven Bundy

By Katie Fite / WildLands Defense

This article first appeared on Counterpunch

Featured Image: Virgin River with banks trampled like a feedlot by Cliven Bundy cattle. May 2015.

In Oregon, an armed occupation of Malheur Wildlife Refuge headquarters is being led by self-proclaimed “patriots” from Nevada. They are defending a public lands ranching family’s “right” to set fires and break the law.

In Nevada, Cliven Bundy owes more than a million dollars in grazing fees. An armed confrontation broke out when BLM began to impound his trespass livestock. The government backed down. For almost two years, no action has been taken while the Bundy camp becomes ever more brazen. This past summer, when Cliven Bundy went to the Nevada legislature to support a bill to turn over federal authority of public land to the state, he was treated to a barbecue by Nevada Congressman Mark Amodei.

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Cliven Bundy is not the only Nevada Rancher being given proprietary treatment by Nevada federal land managers. Settlement deals and BLM coddling reward hostile ranchers at the expense of the public’s land.

Argenta Allotment Settlement

There has been prolonged, severe drought in Nevada. In 2014, defiant public lands ranchers resisted Battle Mountain BLM drought closures and cattle cuts in the Argenta allotment. They were emboldened by the Bundy incident. The ranchers set up a “Grass Camp,” aided by instigator Grant Gerber, across from the BLM office. They have waged an intimidation campaign against agency staff. They whined incessantly to cattle friendly Nevada politicians Amodei and Senator Heller. The Elko paper did not really report, but instead was a worshipful cheerleader against the BLM. The ranchers denied there even was a drought. At the very same time, they received lavish federal drought disaster relief payments.

The cattle damage became so severe that by late summer the local BLM finally closed the sensitive sage-grouse habitats in mountain pastures of the Shoshone Range to grazing. The ranchers and states rights politician John Carpenter appealed the protective closure. In spring 2015, an Interior Department Office of Hearings and Appeals administrative law judge finished review of a mountain of documents, and ruled in favor of the closure.

But within weeks, BLM folded. All of Argenta was again flung open to grazing. Leadership under Nevada BLM Director John Ruhs had forced a settlement deal indulging the ranchers’ every whim. Ruhs, bonded at the hip with the Cattlemen, had been “Acting” Director, and then officially became Nevada Director.

Nevada BLM Director John Ruhs
Nevada BLM Director John Ruhs

The deal was greased through by the “National Riparian Team,” composed of livestock industry sycophants from within BLM and the Forest Service, and outside cattle consultants.

The Team, while claiming to be a neutral party, immediately took the ranchers’ side – with Team members railing against perceived interference by the local BLM staff that had sought to control cattle damage to the public lands. So it’s no surprise the settlement flung open sensitive closed sage-grouse habitats to full bore grazing. Herds of several hundred cows were allowed to trample and devour “forage” across the drought-stricken public land in 2015.

The settlement put the Team in charge of a Coordinated Monitoring Group “(CMG”) dominated by ranchers and a token enviro group to take control of monitoring, to direct management actions, and run interference with the local BLM so the Argenta ranchers would not be accountable for grazing damage or trespass.

The cabal bars the public and press from observing their monitoring of grazing damage, and from their closed door discussions that dictate management. The group tells BLM what to do to keep the ranchers happy.

The result has been grazing chaos, and wanton damage of lands and waters.  Wildlands Defense (WLD) and colleagues visited Argenta to observe and document conditions. Cattle were scattered all over the allotment, and riparian areas ravaged. When we asked BLM where cows were supposed to be present, the local BLM managers did not even know. All was in the hands of the Team and CMG.

Cattle trampling dries out and destroys sage-grouse brood habitats.
Cattle trampling dries out and destroys sage-grouse brood habitats.

Scads of new cattle projects are also laid out in the settlement. A July Team memo plans new barbed wire fencing and water projects incrementally sprawled across Argenta. The Team embraces injurious grazing practices – severe cattle trampling soil disturbance and high use of native grasses. Why the projects? So ranchers don’t have to work to control their cows. This frontloads Argenta with band-aid fences around prominent degraded areas (and long term monitoring sites) close to roads, prior to any thorough Land Health assessment. There never has been any grazing study since the 1976 passage of FLPMA. The ranchers can then claim conditions within the little fenced areas are “improving,” and insulate against cattle cuts in an assessment.

Monitoring cage illustrating how severe cattle use is. Our site visits found such cages destroyed in some areas since the CMG group took over.
Monitoring cage illustrating how severe cattle use is. Our site visits found such cages destroyed in some areas since the CMG group took over.

This fall, BLM obediently issued a Decision giving the ranchers six new permanent fences, plus “temporary” water troughs and a pipeline. WLD and Wild Horse Education appealed the first battery of projects, which are terrible for wildlife. Sage-grouse and other wildlife are killed by flying into or becoming entangled with wire. The projects also shift intensive impacts onto other areas. We also challenged the Ruhs Settlement – which has altered grazing, established the exclusive closed meetings, and directed the projects. BLM claims we can’t appeal the Settlement.

Now over the holidays, BLM proposed more projects. The ranchers, through the cover of the Team and CMG, are essentially now running the public lands.

North Buffalo Settlement

Days after BLM caved in Argenta, one of the very same permittees, Filippini Ranch, rewarded BLM appeasement efforts by unleashing their cattle on the nearby North Buffalo allotment. North Buffalo, like Argenta, was closed for drought protection. It is home to a very small struggling population of sage-grouse, whose habitat is also being consumed by foreign gold mines.

BLM could not help but notice the cows turned out illegally, since the ranch owner told about the trespass to the Elko newspaper, flaunting his power. Leadership under Ruhs promptly rewarded this trespass with another Settlement deal. Just as in Argenta, a North Buffalo Settlement flung open the closed lands. BLM charged Filippini around $100 for willful trespass – a small price for being allowed access to tens of thousands of dollars worth of public lands “forage” for which the permittees pay a pittance.

Uncapped abandoned test well site in now Wilderness lands where rancher claimed water rights.
Uncapped abandoned test well site in now Wilderness lands where rancher claimed water rights.

DeLong and Humboldt County Settlement

There is yet another Settlement deal gift to a powerful rancher, this time in Winnemucca BLM lands. The powerful Delong ranching operation and Humboldt County had sued BLM over a raft of access issues primarily involving cattle water projects, many in Wilderness areas with no access roads. The projects had not been recognized by BLM when compiling project lists following the passage of the Black Rock Wilderness legislation in 2000. The lawsuit involved arcane regulations originating in the 1800s and early 1900s. BLM issued a scoping letter this fall proposing to maintain, reconstruct and access 15 cattle projects, access private inholdings, and maintain irrigation ditches – mainly in the North Jackson, South Jackson and Black Rock Wilderness in the South Jackson allotment.

BLM did not tell the public in its confusing letter that the proposal was based on yet another recent Settlement deal. We only learned of this when querying the BLM staff.

BLM field trip in area where rancher is being allowed access for cattle water project.
BLM field trip in area where rancher is being allowed access for cattle water project.

Hold Your Wild Horses

BLM leadership has knowingly looked away from a series of purposeful and blatant violations of the Code of Federal Regulations by a rancher (Borba) in the Fish Creek wild horse Herd Management Area in Battle Mountain country.

The rancher was found to be in “willful trespass,” grazing his livestock outside the boundaries of his legally authorized use for eight months. Under pressure from politicians Heller and Amodei, the BLM reduced the trespass and lowered fees.

The rancher and Eureka County also became upset over a local BLM decision to manage wild horses to incrementally reduce the population. The BLM removed over 200 wild horses, and then planned to use the PZP fertility control drug, and release horses given fertility control back to the HMA. In a stand-off reminiscent of an old western movie, the county and rancher showed up onsite and demanded the BLM not release the horses.

The BLM caved, and the horses were hauled away. After a lengthy legal battle the horses were returned to the range months later.

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The disgruntled rancher began a social media campaign to rile the public against “government abuse.” Claims were made that he was never in trespass. He videotaped himself repeatedly breaking the law, and put it on social media. The penalties for the acts committed clearly state that the permittee will face fines, possible jail time and “shall” lose the right to graze on public lands.

Ruhs met with the rancher, County and local BLM Manager Furtado at Fish Creek, and sided with cattleman over his own staff. The BLM state office has now put the brakes on the fertility control program for the Fish Creek wild horses. This winter, the permittee is grazing livestock as if nothing happened.

Is It Continued Bungling, Political Interference or Tacit Support?

Badly bungling the Bundy situation and failing to act for almost two years now, the BLM opened the floodgates of rancher defiance and Sagebrush Rebel hell. The Ruhs Settlement deals reward powerful public lands ranchers who hate the agency and the very concept of public good and public lands. Allowing violations of federal law to go unaddressed has created an environment where any concept of law appears meaningless. The Settlements in Argenta, North Buffalo, Jackson Mountain/DeLong, coupled with BLM leadership ignoring blatant Fish Creek rancher law-breaking, embolden the very parties who want to see the public lands become unmanageable by the federal government.

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Safety of BLM employees on the ground has been jeopardized. The ranchers want removed anyone who might attempt to protect the environment. Their intimidation campaign is demanding Battle Mountain District Manager Doug Furtado be fired. The local office has been rendered powerless.

Appointment of Ruhs as Nevada Director, sweetheart settlement deals and toleration of overt law-breaking all have taken place under national BLM Director Neil Kornze, a native of Elko, Nevada and son of a mining engineer.

Is this ineptitude on the part of BLM leadership, political interference, or something else? Kornze increasingly appears to be either the most bungling BLM Director ever – or a fellow traveler with the Nevada public Land Grab crowd. While we continue to see PR photos of the BLM Director on outdoor excursions, important areas of the American West are being handed over to the welfare ranchers through a policy of capitulation and appeasement – resulting in a de facto loss of federal control and stealth Land Grab.

Strategic activism