RENO, Nev. — The Bureau of Land Management seized cattle Saturday from a second Nevada rancher accused of trespassing livestock on federal land, estimating he owes the government $300,000 in grazing fees and fines.
The move drew an angry response from dozens of state's rights activists who dispute federal ownership of the land and plan round-the-clock picketing next week at the Fallon livestock yard, where many of the estimated 100 impounded cattle are being held.
"The bottom line is they stole my cattle, and I'm trying to stick up for my property rights," said Ben Colvin, 63, of Goldfield, one of the ranchers accused of illegally grazing his herd on BLM land since 1995.
On Thursday, BLM contractors seized 62 head of cattle owned by Colvin Livestock Co., south of Goldfield, estimating Colvin owes $70,000 in back fees and fines.
By Saturday afternoon, they had rounded up 36 head of Jack Vogt's cattle in nearby Lida, about 150 miles northwest of Las Vegas, BLM officials said.
In both cases, the BLM has been trying for more than five years to resolve the disputes short of impoundment, BLM spokeswoman Jo Simpson said. She said Vogt's bill totaled an estimated $300,000.
"This is not our preferred action. We would much prefer the people in trespass get their cows off voluntarily. These things have been going on for a long time," Simpson said Saturday.
The BLM is involved in various stages of talks with at least seven other Nevada ranchers accused of illegally grazing livestock on federal land, she said.
The BLM plans to sell the impounded cattle at auction if the owners fail to pay the back fees. A deadline for payment has not been set. The agency must provide the owners with five days' notice before holding the auction, Simpson said.
Nearly 100 members of the Nevada Committee for Full Statehood, which was meeting in Sparks on Saturday, organized plans for the picketing to begin Monday or Tuesday in Fallon.
"We don't see anywhere in Nevada brand laws that it says they can do this," said Jackie Holmgren, a Mineral County rancher and member of the committee.
"They are saying they can just take your property and they can sell it. There's no due process. No trial by jury. They basically have taken your livelihood."
Simpson, chief spokeswoman at BLM headquarters in Reno, said a court order was not required. She said the agency was acting within the law to enforce livestock grazing regulations.
Craig MacKinnon, BLM's assistant field manager in Tonopah, said that Colvin repeatedly has refused to comply with BLM requests to remove the unauthorized livestock since 1995.
The Nevada Committee for Full Statehood, which unsuccessfully pushed property rights legislation in the Nevada Assembly this year, refuses to recognize federal jurisdiction over the 87% of state land that is owned and managed by the federal government.
The group includes Cliff Gardner, a Ruby Valley rancher in a court battle with the Forest Service over livestock grazing, several Elko County residents who are fighting the Forest Service over jurisdiction of a road near Jarbidge and Janine Hansen, a conservative activist.
"The government coming in and confiscating 60 head of cattle is going to be a terrible economic blow to his family, a terrible hardship on him and his wife," Gardner said of Colvin on Saturday.
Hansen said the "unlawful actions of the BLM confirm that Nevadans are being treated like serfs and that Nevada has been relegated to the status of a territory of the federal government instead of a sovereign state."
Colvin's livestock grazing permit was revoked in 1997, and he lost two appeals, BLM spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said.
The BLM served trespass notices and notices of intent to impound the cattle to try to resolve the issue short of impoundment, she said.
The cattle were seized from the Montezuma federal grazing allotment that borders Nellis Air Force Base, stretching more than 90 miles from Tonopah south to near Beatty.