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Bureau of Land Management Threatens Dann Impoundment

CRESCENT VALLEY, Nevada—Carrie Dann was packing her bags, checking the mail, making preparations for the long drive to Washington, D.C. when she opened a certified letter from the Bureau of Land Management on March 14.

It was a "Notice of Intent to Impound" livestock from Helen Hankins, District Manager of BLM's Elko office in Northern Nevada. According to the notice, "unauthorized livestock grazing on public land may be impounded at any time after five days from delivery of this notice."

For Carrie and Mary Dann, that means while they are in Washington, D.C. pleading their case to Congress for recognition of their tribe's treaty and basic human rights, another arm of the U.S. government may be rounding up their livelihood.

"They are doing this to terrorize our minds," said Carrie Dann in a telephone interview. "They did this to put fear in our hearts and minds as we're trying to stand up for our rights in Washington."

Responding to questions regarding the timing of the notice, Hankins said, "The impoundment notice we gave the Dann sisters is standard procedure when we have trespass livestock on public lands. It says that anytime after five days, we can impound their livestock during the next year.

"Should an impoundment occur, then we would round up the livestock and sell them, and the proceeds would go towards the trespass damages the person involved owes the U.S. government. In this case, we are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Dann said the amount is closer to $1 million in fines assessed against her over the years for refusing to pay grazing fees on land the BLM calls "public" and Dann asserts is still under Western Shoshone possession and jurisdiction.

In a 1992 six-day roundup that ended just before Thanksgiving, BLM confiscated 269 horses and hauled them to Fallon, Nevada, a four-hour drive, for impoundment.

After the Nevada brand inspector certified the Dann's horses as "estrays" they were sold at auction to help pay the for the costly round-up which Dann said involved a helicopter, temporary corrals, cattle trucks and 50 armed federal officers over a six-day period.

The Danns had the opportunity to recover any horses marked with their brand, but only if they agreed to pay all the past grazing fees and the cost of the roundup expenses. They did not attempt to do so.

The year-round threat of impoundment hangs over the Dann sisters constantly and is a source of mental anguish for them, Carrie said. "We never know when they'll come."

Jo Lynn Worley, BLM's public information specialist on the Dann case, said several factors determine when an impoundment will occur.

"If they are causing degradation in areas we're trying to rehabilitate, that might raise it to a higher priority. In the Dann's case, their livestock is sometimes in an area we have reseeded that took quite a bit of money to rehabilitate.

"They received a notice of intent to impound last year, but we didn't go in. That notice expired, and they still have livestock on public land so we issued another intent to impound."

But "there also is a political aspect of it that has been going on since the last time we impounded in 1992," she said. "Removing livestock -- someone's personal property -- is a difficult thing to do. With the Danns, we are talking about two elderly Indian women and certainly impounding livestock can have economic consequences."

But Worley said the timing of the latest impoundment notice has nothing to do with the Senate Indian Affairs Committee's March 21 consideration of S.B. 958, a proposed distribution of a monetary settlement that could end the Shoshone fight for land title.

"We send impoundment notices to them on a yearly basis," Worley said. "We've gone to court on this issue and we've tried to resolve it. Once BLM is told those are not federally managed public lands, then we won't be trying to do our job. But that hasn't happened."

According to records sent from the Reno communications office, BLM appears to be making plans for another impoundment soon.

"On December 5, 2001, BLM and the Nevada state brand inspector met to discuss pre-impoundment measures for pending Dann impoundment. State Brand Inspector states all horses will be determined to be estray animals and turned over to the State for disposition. Agree that no horses will be returned to the Danns until they pay amounts owed the United States for unauthorized use and cost of impoundment," the statement reads.

"If they want to impound, there is nothing I can do about it," Carrie Dann said en route to Washington. "If they want to come out and raid us again, it would be a cowardly act because they know we are going to be gone.

"But we have a bigger issue to be concerned about than just two Indian women. Western Shoshone land rights are more important right now than standing up and defending our own."

Dann said, "These kind of intimidation tactics have to stop. I wish people would

contact their congressman and tell them to stop BLM from harassing us. Tell them it is un-American to do this to us.

"The report by the Organization of American States confirms that our human rights are being violated here ? we don't seem to have any rights ? and its' about time that people in power in America begin to treat us like we are human beings."

Meanwhile, the call for fair consideration of Western Shoshone people's concerns before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee continues to grow.

One of the country's leading experts on Indian treaties ? Vine Deloria, Jr., professor of history and law and author of many publications on Indian treaty rights ? has agreed to testify on behalf of the Yomba Western Shoshone tribe's opposition to S.B. 958. He has yet to be confirmed as a witness at the Indian Affairs Committee hearings.