Ranchers deliver petitions to Nevada governor

About 40 people on horseback ride to the Nevada Capitol in Carson City, Nev., on Friday, May 30, 2014, to deliver petitions to Gov. Brian Sandoval, over federal management of grazing on public lands. The riders blocked northbound traffic on U.S. 395 for about two hours. (AP Photo/Sandra Chereb)

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — About 40 riders on horseback blocked traffic on the main highway of Nevada’s capital city Friday to deliver petitions to Gov. Brian Sandoval against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over grazing rights on federal land.

The rally ended a weeklong, 300-mile Pony Express-style odyssey orchestrated by Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber that began on Memorial Day in northeast Nevada.

Several dozen ranchers from around northern Nevada, wearing spurs and cowboy hats, met with Sandoval in the governor’s office. Sandoval assured them he would take their concerns over grazing allotments in Battle Mountain to the highest officials in the federal agency.

“This is what makes Nevada great,” Sandoval said to the crowd packed in his reception area. “The fact that we’re all one family … that you feel you can come to Carson City and present and air your concerns.”

“I’m very proud of the efforts you’ve made,” he said, adding, “I’m very humbled and honored that you would do it and very respectful of all of you being here today.”

Sandoval accepted a fistful of petitions delivered in a cloth satchel and told the ranchers he would take up the matter with federal officials. The petition seeks the ouster of Douglas Furtado, the Bureau of Land Management’s field manager in Battle Mountain.

“You have my assurance I will continue to speak with the BLM as well as the Department of the Interior to ensure all Nevadans are heard,” he said.

Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Erica Haspiel-Szlosek said the agency welcomes the dialogue.

“We certainly are all for people expressing their concern, positive, negative, to talk about public lands,” Haspiel-Szlosek said. “We have excellent communication with the governor’s office, and I’m sure he and the state director will be discussing it in the near future.”

The meeting with the governor came a few days after the federal agency agreed to let ranchers continue grazing cattle and sheep on more than 300 square miles of rangelands as long as lingering drought conditions do not worsen.

But many ranchers don’t believe the temporary agreement is practical and point to lingering disputes with the agency.

Among those meeting with the governor were four generations of Filippinis, whose family has been ranching in Nevada since the 1870s.

“We pay our taxes, we pay our grazing fees, we help the economy,” Hank Filippini said. He added, “I’ll fight it to my dying day.”

Eddyann Filippini said the agency last year canceled the allotment where the family grazed 900 cattle.

Gerber called the cross-country ride the “Grass March” and 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 the 1930s.

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