Thursday, January 14, 2016

Tension between ranchers and federal officials is dangerously high in Nevada

byContact Reporter

Gerald "Jerry" Smith grew up in Nevada and went to work for the Bureau of Land Management right after college. As a local, he figured he was uniquely suited to work with the ranchers who have long resented the federal government's role in land management here.

It didn't quite work out that way.

Now retired from a job as district manager for the BLM, Smith knows all about the tensions that have long defined relations between ranchers in the rural West and the federal government, which manages much of the region's land. Those tensions have boiled over in recent days at a wildlife refuge in Oregon and are at a perpetual simmer here.

Now it is Smith's successor as district manager, Doug Furtado, who has become the enemy for many people in the region.

Although there have been no violence or threats here, the risk is real. Federal employees in Nevada have been attacked in the past over land-use disputes — shot at, their offices and cars bombed.

"We got to live in this community," said Smith, who supervised, trained and still hunts with Furtado in this community where many carry concealed handguns. "All these issues, none of them are worth dying over. I worry about that — so does Doug."

Just off the interstate leading into this northern Nevada town of about 3,600 ringed by the snow-capped peaks of the Shoshone and Sheep Creek ranges, protesting ranchers pitched their "Cowboy Grass Camp" on a muddy roadside across from the gray stucco ranch house that serves as the BLM's district office.

Two white tepees flapped in the wind last week beside a canvas tent sometimes occupied by the ranchers, who tend their cattle on nearby spreads passed down through generations. They tacked hand-lettered red, white and blue signs to a nearby metal ranch gate urging drivers to "Support ranchers," "Protect grazing, water rights" and "Honk to impeach Furtado!"

"I lay on it when I go by," said rancher Eddyann Filippini, 59. "You do what you got to do when the devil's got the sword to your throat."

Furtado, district manager for the last five years, listens to the honking from inside his office. He is no longer allowed to speak publicly and was recently forced to back off on drought-driven grazing restrictions he imposed in 2013 and cede control of negotiations with ranchers to the state director.

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