Nevada Ranchers Challenge Federal Stranglehold on Land

Published October 28, 2014

In May, a month after Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s dramatic standoff over grazing fees with United States Bureau of Land Management, ranchers and land-rights activists in the northern part of the state followed Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber on a 70-mile horse ride, the Grass March from Elko to Battle Mountain to protest reduced livestock grazing allotments on federal land. Gerber modeled the Memorial Day ride after Gandhi’s famous Salt March to protest the British salt monopoly in 1930.

As an attorney, Gerber has repeatedly challenged federal land managers in Nevada, representing numerous clients in disputes with the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service. He says he sees the status of Nevadans struggling against an overwhelming federal presence as similar to that of India under British colonial rule.

Quasi-Colonial Status Claimed

“The British government in India not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but was running India economically, politically, culturally, and spiritually. The same thing is happening in Nevada,” Gerber told the Casper Star-Tribune, May 25.

Gerber’s ire was triggered when the BLM decided to curtail grazing on federal lands in Nevada in response to a severe drought. The state office of the BLM in Reno issued a statement asserting, “These conditions have stressed all the resources on the public lands, making grazing throughout most of Nevada unsustainable at permitted levels.”

Protestors recognize the drought is serious, but state and local officials and rural landowners in the region are frustrated decisions over what to do about it are made by federal bureaucrats with little consideration for the impact on local people.

‘Land Socialism’

Of the more than 70 million acres of land in Nevada, the federal government owns 83.1 percent. The federal government owns more than half the land in four other states as well—Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Utah. The BLM says the percentage of federally owned land is those states is as follows: Alaska, 64.8 percent; Idaho, 62.5; Oregon, 52.6 percent; and Utah, 64.5 percent; percent; and.

“Massive federal ownership of land in the Inter-Mountain West stifles economic activity throughout the region,” said Craig Rucker, executive director of the Washington-based Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), in which analyzes energy and natural resources issues. “The region is being held down by Washington bureaucrats who are intent on perpetuating their colonial-like power over states like Nevada. As long as this form of land socialism is allowed to persist, rural westerners are going to be denied the liberties and opportunities other Americans enjoy.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, DC.