ELKO, Nev. ? The Bureau of Land Management scheduled an auction May 31 to sell livestock that it confiscated from Shoshone tribal members on BLM-managed rangeland.
BLM spokesman Jo Simpson said the federal agency would accept bids for one hour at its Reno headquarters. Demonstrators disrupted a similar auction last fall held at the agency's wild horse facility in Palomino Valley.
"We decided this would be a better place to have it," Simpson told the Associated Press. "The people who want to see the cattle before they bid can arrange to do that."
On May 24 the BLM impounded 150 head of livestock owned by members of the Te-Moak Band of Western Shoshone, many belonging to Raymond Yowell, the traditional chief of the Western Shoshone. The livestock were turned onto public lands and said to be grazing illegally.
The seizure is the latest step in a decades-long legal fight over the status of the Shoshone and Crane Springs ranges, which the BLM considers as resolved in its favor this March.
The livestock owners were notified of the sale with the offer to allow them to recover their property.
The livestock were considered to be trespassing and mingling among cattle that were paying the fee to graze. Mike Brown, spokesman for the Elko District BLM, said that if the owners of the impounded livestock had paid the grazing fee and the impoundment fee the livestock would have been returned.
"The BLM has tried to work with the Te-Moak Livestock Association and local interests in every possible fashion over a number of years to resolve their unauthorized use of the public lands," said BLM Nevada State Director Bob Abbey.
"Despite cancellation of their grazing permit, issuance of trespass notices, a court decision, numerous meetings and telephone calls, and other attempts at negotiation over the past years, these individuals have continued to ignore BLM's grazing permit process.
"BLM's only recourse at this point is to impound their livestock. I regret the necessity to take this action, but I think it is important to treat all users of the public lands consistently where unauthorized use is occurring." Abbey said.
Members of the Te-Moak Livestock Association deny that the land in question belongs to the federal government. They say it was never alienated under the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. (See "Western Shoshone Fight On", Perspectives, this issue.) The federal government purchased the land from the Shoshone in the 1940s, but tribal members claim they were paid cents on the dollar for the land.
Also the traditional members claim the land was not for sale and they refused payment. Other members of the Te-Moak Band of Western Shoshone who formed the South Fork Livestock Partnership had cattle grazing on the land. Those members paid the grazing fee to the BLM.
The TMLA, of which Yowell is a member, quit paying permit fees in 1984 with the claim that they did not have to pay for grazing on land that was rightfully that of the Western Shoshone. The livestock trespassing issue has been going on since 1984. The BLM cancelled the Association's permit in 1989.
"They say we were paid for the land. They gave us 15 cents per acre. Mother Earth is not for sale. (The government) didn't follow procedures, we were trampled on," said Carrie Dann, member of the Te-Moak Livestock Association.
"The land is sacred. The U.S. Government ripped us off. They can't buy sacredness for a few cents; they can push it down their throats. I won't give up my rights to use my land," Dann said.
Dann and her sister are well known in the area for resisting what they claim is the federal government's unauthorized interference on the land. A Western Shoshone Defense Project was formed with the Dann sisters at the core. Dann said she was afraid her livestock would be next on the list. Her livestock was not confiscated.
The BLM claims that allowing unauthorized livestock on the range will cause damage from overgrazing. Overgrazing on re-seeded land damaged the Crane Springs range, from which the livestock were recently impounded, BLM said. The range was re-seeded after a 1999 fire.
Dann said the association was told the range was in "one hell of a shape," because of the unauthorized gazing, a claim she denies.
Legal give-and-take with the Dann Sisters, Yowell and the Te-Moak Livestock Association has been ongoing since 1984. After Yowell informed the BLM that the association would pay no more fees, BLM issued trespass notices that went unheeded.
In 1987, the BLM informed the association that its grazing permit would be cancelled, but the Te-Moak members claimed they had the right to graze the livestock without paying any fees. They based their claim on ancient land use by the Shoshone and the lack of any clear transfer to the federal government.
Yowell informed the BLM in 1996 that the association intended to continue grazing the land as Traditional Western Shoshone Cattlemen and that they were not trespassing.
The following year the BLM failed to collect the outstanding grazing fees from the TWSC even though it again threatened cancellation of the permit.
It wasn't until 1989 that the permit was finally cancelled, but the Te-Moak cattlemen continued to turn out their cattle into the Shoshone and Crane Springs ranges. Some Te-Moak members worked out a settlement to keep their livestock on the ranges and paid the fees assessed by the BLM.
In 2000 the Te-Moak tribe presented to BLM some BIA secretarial documents that the tribe claimed proved that the range was not public land, but in fact belonged to the Te-Moak Shoshone. The Solicitor General held a hearing to determine the legality of the permit cancellations based on the appeal from the tribal members.
But the hearing was postponed until the BLM could obtain a legal opinion on the 1941 secretarial ruling that created the South Fork grazing area, adjacent to the disputed ranges.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request for an injunction against impoundment of livestock in the Crane Springs and Shoshone allotment districts. And the next year, in the face of a letter of notice to impound livestock in the Shoshone and Crane Springs ranges the cattlemen's association headed by Yowell turned cattle into the area.
Some livestock owners removed their livestock, but the traditional cattlemen's group refused to remove cattle from the Spring Crane and Shoshone areas. Livestock was not impounded pending the legal ruling on the 1941 Secretarial ruling.
In March, the Solicitor's Office ruled that the 1941 Secretarial Proclamation did not grant grazing rights on public lands to the Western Shoshone. The notice to impound was again issued to alleged unauthorized livestock owners and on May 24 the livestock was impounded and put up for sale.