Wednesday, March 17, 2004

New Mexico rancher arrested

By John Kamin, assistant editor

Rancher Kit Laney was arrested on Sunday evening in the heat of the Diamond Bar Grazing Allotment cattle removal.

Gila National Forest Public Information Officer Jim Payne confirmed reports that Diamond Bar Cattle Company owner Kit Laney was arrested at 7:30 p.m. and transferred to Las Cruces, N.M. He said that Kit will be arraigned in front of the U.S. Magistrate in Las Cruces on Monday afternoon.

Kit and Sherry Laney (both co-owners of the cattle company) lost the ability to graze on the allotment after a federal judge denied their appeal in late December. The removal of their cattle from the allotment was scheduled to occur in mid-February, but the Forest Service was delayed in finding a contractor who would take the job.

A complaint filed by Forest Service law enforcement officer Christopher L. Boehm alleges that Mr. Laney greeted three law enforcement officers on Sunday evening with a slough of profanities, while spurring his horse to a fast gallop.

The officers were watching guard over cattle that were being moved from an enclosure into a work center. Boehm said in the complaint that Kit succeeded in knocking him into a cattle guard.

"Laney then directed his horse back towards Officer Reamer at a gallop. Whenever the officers approached Laney, he guided his horse in their direction, threatening to ram or trample them."

Boehm then alleges that Kit then tried to remove the enclosure fencing and struck contractor Isaiah Baker with his leather reins. At this point, "Officer Reamer continued to advise Laney to stop or he would be arrested."

It was about this point when Kit dismounted, according to the complaint. Boehm alleges that Laney tried to climb into the enclosure, only to be told that he was under arrest. When he pulled his arm away, officers sprayed Kit with pepper spray and attempted to handcuff him, Boehm wrote. While doing so, Mr. Laney "continued to resist as the four officers attempted to get physical control and handcuff" him.

The Courier could not confirm whether any charges will be filed against Laney by press time. New Mexico State Associate Professor Angus MacIntosh said he heard Mr. Laney will be charged with two counts of interference with a federal officer.

Rancher Laura Schneberger was the first to tell the Courier that Kit Laney was arrested on Sunday evening.

"Kit was arrested last night after going to check on some cattle in the pens," she said on Monday morning e-mail, before the complaint was released. "Last week the Forest Service informed the neighbors that they would allow Kit to look at the cattle... They think he was trying to let the cattle go and he resisted when they grabbed him, but he didn't strike anyone. It is likely that he was only trying to look at the cattle."

Schneberger is good friends with the Laneys and said she learned this information from Sherry Laney. She said the Forest Service is conducting the removal without the presence of professional livestock operators.

The removal

"The contractors were fully operational today," Martinez said during a Friday afternoon phone interview with the Courier. "They have about 100 livestock gathered. The livestock are corralled on the national forest."

Payne later indicated that 125 cattle were corralled on Sunday, bringing up the total to 240.

Martinez addressed concerns that the Forest Service is spending lavishly on the removal while knowing that ranchers Kit and Sherry Laney must pay for the cost of the removal.

She said 27 employees are on-site, including law enforcement, Forest Service officials, cowboys and staff to help run the removal headquarters.

"We also have the individuals that are helping the cowboys to be comfortable with the terrain," Martinez said. "The individuals who are here are helping to expedite the removal process. We are paying very close attention to the cost."

The site being used is known to area residents as MeOwn.

Martinez also explained the use of a helicopter for the removal.

"The helicopter is an aerial recon to help us facilitate the removal process and to help us identify where the livestock is," she said. "We're paying a lot of attention to cost containment and expenses."

Harassment questions

Schneberger was infuriated by the removal before the arrest of Kit Laney. She said her husband, Matt Schneberger, and her son have been harassed by Forest Service officials while trying to drive horses on private property.

Schneberger sent e-mails to several people on Saturday that mentions the alleged harassment.

An excerpt from her e-mail says, "After chasing my husband and my 13-year-old son (who were on horseback and driving three other horses from one private property to another private property) with lights flashing, sirens blaring and repeated efforts to try to get them off their horses, one regular law enforcement vehicle and one K-9 unit came to the house (on private property that's posted with 'no trespassing' signs) and confronted Kit (Laney)."

Later in the e-mail, she says, "The day after this happened, they stopped my husband, son and Kit on the main road and tried to give them all tickets for trespassing on the forest. As they have no authority over civilians (without an OK from the Sheriff), my husband drove away from them."

Schneberger's e-mail mentions other encounters with law enforcement officers armed with machine guns. Martinez said law enforcement officers are necessary because "it is so controversial we have to put a lot of emphasis on safety." She also told the Courier, "It is normal operations to have law enforcement protect the property and (Forest Service) employees."

Her e-mail also mentions that Catron County Sheriff John Snyder served a constructive notice to the removal contractor. The purpose of the notice is to "inform him that he could and would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law if any Diamond Bar Cattle were removed from the ranch."

Martinez said the identity of the contractor has and will be kept secret because it is a condition of his contract with the Forest Service. The New Mexico Cattle Grower's Association filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents relating to the removal, she said.

Kit and Sherry Laney warned that they will sue anyone participating in the removal in mid-February.

A contentious memorandum

The New Mexico State Livestock Board has a duty to ensure that all sales of livestock are approved by its owners, according to its mission statement. This presented a conflict between the board and the Forest Service.

So when the board's executive director, Daniel Manzanares, signed a Memorandum of Understanding stating that the board would not interfere with the removal, ranchers challenged the MOU.

Schneberger said the signing of the document was never approved by the board as an official agenda item. According to all parties, the document is signed by Manzanares and Regional Forester Harv Forsgren.

Martinez said the Forest Service has been working with the board very closely to reduce any conflict between the two groups.

"We have been working very closely with them to make sure we would be in compliance with New Mexico statutes and regulations pertaining to the livestock transfer and sale," she said.

More than 30 ranching groups signed onto a lawsuit against the board to challenge the memorandum, Schneberger said. This includes the Paragon Foundation and the Gila Livestock Grower's Association. Part of the lawsuit includes an injunction that was filed to stop the memorandum, she said.

A March 6 Associated Press article used quotes from Manzanares indicating that the board had no control over the issue because it involves federal land and a decision from a federal court, therefore the entire case is under federal jurisdiction.

To contact John Kamin, call 428-2560 (ext. 240) or e-mail him at

Western Watersheds Project Joins With the Oregon Natural Desert Association In A New Lawsuit In Oregon Over the Louse Canyon General Management Area

On Monday March 8, 2004 Western Watersheds Project joined with our sister organization, the Oregon Natural Desert Association (, to bring a lawsuit in federal District Court in Portland, Oregon against the Bureau of Land Management.

The law suit alleges the BLM illegally withheld action to change management in the Louse Canyon Management Area of southeast Oregon. The BLM's own regulations, the Fundamentals of Rangeland Health (43 C.F.R. 4180), require livestock management changes before the next grazing season when livestock are determined to be the cause of failure.

The Louse Canyon Area is located adjacent to Idaho and Nevada in the southeast corner of Oregon in a landscape dominated by the elaborate rhyolite canyons of the Owyhee River watershed. The BLM's recent assessment of the area which encompasses over 500,000 acres is quite lengthy (several hundred pages) and quite revealing. The BLM determined that standards were not being met, and livestock were the cause of the failure, on 6 of 21 pastures in the LCGMA. These 6 pastures account for approximately 220,155 acres of public lands, which is about 42% of the 523,000 acres of land the LCGMA encompasses. The PFC results are equally shocking: Close to 50% of the streams in the LCGMA are not meeting Standard 2 (Watershed Function-riparian/wetland), with 43% Functioning at Risk, Trend Not Apparent, 5 reaches Functioning at Risk, Downward Trend, and 3 reaches Not Functioning. In addition, 75% of the meadow/wetland complexes in the LCGMA are not functioning due to livestock grazing.

WWP and ONDA are confident that Judge Garr King of Oregon's federal District Court will find in our favor, and that the BLM will be obliged to change management in significant ways as a consequence....

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