Horse News

Ranchers denied the drought while collecting drought subsidies


sage brush rebels

It was an anti-government rebellion in the Nevada sagebrush – with hefty taxpayer subsidies for the rebels.

In June, tough-talking ranchers in remote Battle Mountain, Nevada, defied the federal government, herding cattle onto public rangeland that had been closed to grazing to protect it during the West’s scorching drought.

That act of defiance capped two years of protest against grazing restrictions imposed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which manages thousands of square miles of arid federal land in Nevada.

In the end, the federal government backed down from the confrontation in Battle Mountain. The BLM canceled the drought closures and opened the range, just as the cattlemen wanted.

By denying the severity of the drought – and by claiming that “rogue” federal bureaucrats threatened them with economic ruinthe ranchers won the day. But even as the conflict played out, some of these same ranchers were collecting drought subsidies from the federal government.

On one hand, they denied the drought. On the other hand, they embraced it.

According to records obtained by Reveal, two ranching families at the center of the Battle Mountain protests received $2.2 million from a federal drought disaster relief program.

Dan Filippini, the protest leader who turned hundreds of cattle loose on the closed range, was paid $338,000 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Livestock Forage Disaster Program in 2014, records show.

Another $750,000 federal payout went to a trust and corporation associated with the Filippini family, which long has been active in ranching in Nevada.

Meanwhile, significant payments also went to the family of Battle Mountain cattleman Peter Tomera, who with his wife and sons rode on the Grass March Cowboy Express, a 2014 horseback ride to Washington, D.C., to protest the government drought restrictions. The records show that the government paid $250,000 to a Tomera family trust and another $360,000 to a family corporation.

An additional $540,000 was paid to other members of the extended Tomera family and to a related corporation, records show.

The subsidy program compensates ranchers who claim financial losses because a drought disaster has driven up the cost of feed for livestock.


Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (from left) accepts petitions from Assemblyman Ira Hansen and Battle Mountain ranchers Peter and Lynn Tomera in May 2014. The Tomeras have received funds from a federal drought disaster relief program.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (from left) accepts petitions from Assemblyman Ira Hansen and Battle Mountain ranchers Peter and Lynn Tomera in May 2014. The Tomeras have received funds from a federal drought disaster relief program.
Credit: Sandra Chereb/Associated Press

In a 2014 appeal of the BLM’s closure order, lawyers for the Filippini family flatly asserted that “no drought exists” on the Battle Mountain range.

The lawyers contended that the U.S. Drought Monitor, a scientific survey the BLM relies on to track drought conditions, wasn’t reliable and “moisture conditions” on the range were normal.

Katie Fite of the environmental group WildLands Defense said the range around Battle Mountain is “devastated and needs significant rest” from the ranchers’ activities.

“They truly think they are the lords of yesteryear and the public lands are their own little fiefdom,” she said.

At its height, the Battle Mountain protest attracted the support of conservative Nevada lawmakers, states-rights advocates and backers of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada cattleman whose refusal to pay federal grazing fees led to an armed standoff with federal lawmen in 2014.

The protest tapped into long-standing resentment of the BLM, which controls about 48 million acres of federal land in Nevada. The agency leases public land to ranchers for grazing while administering the Endangered Species Act and other federal environmental regulations.

In Battle Mountain, a desert town about 200 miles northeast of Reno, anger flared in 2013 as the impact of the West’s worst drought in decades began to be felt.

A BLM manager, Doug Furtado, ordered closures on about 180,000 acres of range west of town, saying he was concerned that grazing cattle there would cause lasting damage to lands already stressed by drought.

After Filippinis appeal of the closure order was rejected, the ranchers’ protest began in earnest.

They put up signs near the BLM offices reading, “Honk to Impeach Furtado.” They persuaded elected officials in three counties to call for the range to be opened and the BLM director to be fired.

And in fall 2014, the ranchers made their 21-day horseback trek to the U.S. Capitol. There, they delivered a sheaf of petitions to Congress infused with anti-government rhetoric.

“Regulation without Representation is Tyranny,” one petition read. “The Grass March Cowboy Express is bigger than Bundy,” it also said, referring to the rancher who had faced down the BLM.

The petitions called for firing Furtado and opening the range and included other demands dear to ranchers and Nevada state-rights advocates: The government should back off on enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, stop protecting “surplus wild horses” on the Nevada range and not designate public lands as protected wilderness areas.

In testimony before a congressional subcommittee, the march’s leader, Elko lawyer A. Grant Gerber, went further, calling on Congress to deed all federal land in Nevada to the state to ensure local control. That has long been a goal of the Nevada Committee for Full Statehood and other state-sovereignty groups that have challenged the BLM. Gerber died on the return trip after a fall from his horse.

The last act in the protest occurred June 2, when Filippini trucked about 300 head of cattle to a stretch of range called the North Buffalo Allotment and turned them loose, despite the closure order. Among about 40 supporters at the scene were two Elko County commissioners, Demar Dahl and Rex Steninger. The elected officials helped herd the animals onto the closed range, the Elko Daily Free Press reported.

In an interview with the newspaper, Filippini’s wife, Eddyann, vowed continued resistance to the BLM.

“We are not conceding any more,” she said. “We can’t and survive. If we quit, our way of life and that of our children will be gone.”

In a letter to the newspaper’s editor, she wrote that the “government agencies that administer grazing have gone rogue. They have shoved their bureaucratic policies down our throats.”

The Filippinis did not respond to voicemail messages, a Facebook message and a letter from Reveal seeking comment.

Rather than moving against Dan Filippini for trespassing – and risking a prolonged Bundy-style confrontation – the BLM quickly negotiated a settlement. Under its terms, the closed range was reopened to grazing. In exchange, the Filippinis agreed to drop further appeals of the prior closure orders.

Environmentalists complained that the BLM rewarded the ranchers for violating the law, allowing them to run cattle on a drought-stressed range that they said already was battered by decades of overgrazing.

“The livestock industry enjoys heavily subsidized grazing privileges,” said Kirsten Stade of the Washington-based group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “But (it) acts as if it has an entitlement to the public’s lands.”

In all, the USDA’s livestock disaster program paid out more than $204 million to Nevada cattle and sheep ranchers in 2014, records show. The payments were for losses claimed in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

To get relief, ranchers were required to fill out applications reporting the size of their herds and verifying they were pastured in a county where the U.S. Drought Monitor declared that drought conditions prevail.

Read the rest of the story here.

12 replies »

  1. It’s doubtful that the Public Lands ranchers would have incurred the Public’s wrath had they left our Wild Horses and Burros alone and been willing to be fair and do the right thing.

    Same thing goes for the big hunting organizations that have driven them from their Herd Management Areas, as they did in the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge.

    It’s entirely possible that they have killed the proverbial goose that had provided them with so many golden eggs.

    The Declining Importance of Public Lands Ranching in the West
    Mark N Salvo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Louie, this is what happens when people get too much money and power. They line tge pockets of the politicians, not us. They vite in their corrupt representatives. They collect their subsidies without shame BECAUSE THEY CAN. Ranchers have never been honest, decent people. Check your history about the ranchers versus the farmers in Texas. My mom told me that story about a war on land between the two and the bs that the leeches (ranchers) pulled. These are not little family ranchers, these are Corporate ranchers who will screw anybody who gets in their way. The blm is like a hen pecked husband who takes it out on his secretary. Long story but I know how that works.


      • Terri, there could be something very ominous that’s behind all of this. WH&B people have, for a long time, been warning public land ranchers, who have been very useful in helping to remove the FEDERALLY PROTECTED Wild Horses and Burros from Public Lands
        Now….the tide is turning and the shoe is on the other foot
        I talk to a lot of people and in telling them about the plight of our WH&B, these questions come up over and over again:
        WHY?…WHAT are they hurting? WHO wants them gone from Public Lands?

        Could this be part of the reason as well as part of the URGENCY?

        The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), An Oppressive US-Led Free Trade Agreement, A Corporate Power-Tool of the 1%

        US standards for property rights protection would be swept away in favor of international property rights standards, as interpreted by TPP’s unelected international tribunals,
        giving investors principal control over PUBLIC LAND and RESOURCES
        “that are not for the exclusive or predominant use and benefit of the government.”


      • This deal has, undoubtedly, been in the works for far longer than this President has been in the White House, BUT..if it goes through, he is going to own it and will forever be blamed for it:

        Facts About the Trans Pacific Partners Agreement
        Obamatrade would surrender control of 544 million acres of public land – a quarter of the entire U.S. land area – to international authorities


      • Indeed. This welfare rancher thing with their self-awarded privileges, charters and vague claims about land they were merely allowed to graze, not to own, and their bluffy displays of force with folks in toy uniforms sporting AR-15s is completely moldy and medieval.

        I find particularly fascinating how adept they are at critizing the government with the hate-filled speeches about state rights (think about it, what’s the Union if not a big state, or conversely, what’s a state but a mere province or municipality of the Union) and their greedy individualism while at the same waving the flag of the federal government they seem to hate so much… while at the same time they are even more adept at receiving kickbacks, handouts and numerous alms from that government they hate.

        Another thing I find quite interesting is how they equate the federal government controlling grazing to prevent irreparable range degradation with communism while at the same this privileged group (they even have trusts!!!!), which receives billions of dollars in direct and indirect subsidies, basically outsource the production costs of their operations to the rest of the population. Well, there is an economical system that shares the same operating principle and it is precisely… communism.

        Isn’t that ironic?

        However, I have to say this is not surprising at all. In every country, the folks sharing the same ideology that the Bundites always resort to the same tactics.


      • If TTIP finally results in the sale of public federal lands it will be devastating for public horses… and I already seen reports of foreign corporations hogging up water for forage crops in Arizona. Coincidence?

        On the other hand… there are a bunch of such treaties already underway. NAFTA is an example, and the CETA (between Canada and EU) is the next one in the line. It just needs to be ratified by several countries in the EU. We would need to study the effects of these to determine the actual scope of the impact of the TTIP. For the time being, NAFTA was proved the be devastating for the Mexican small businesses, besides facilitating greatly the continuation of the slaughter pipeline in Mexico and Canada after the US plants closed.

        Also, I had the opportunity to discuss with an economist some aspects of the welfare ranching issue and his conclussons were clear: If we want to end the negative influence of the welfare ranching and agribusiness lobbies upon Congress and federal agencies their subsidies need to be terminated. They really need to put their words where their mouths are and start operating at real market values. Then market forces will likely drive them away in a few years. We can no longer tolerate their rants about their land-grabbing fantasies, how their pocketbook is above everybody else’s right to publid lands and their commie-name-calling while they keep funding their lifestyles with everybody else’s money.



        “the final text is worse than we expected”
        Today’s long-awaited release of the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) reveals that the pact replicates many of the most controversial terms of past pacts that promote job offshoring and push down U.S wages. “From leaks, we knew quite a bit about the agreement, but in chapter after chapter,
        the final text is worse than we expected with the demands of the 500 official U.S. trade advisers representing corporate interests satisfied to the detriment of the public interest,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s GTW.


  2. Its shameful that the ranchers who disregard the BLM when they are told to stay off the drought-stricken land – ignore this & continue to turn cows out. Why – in the name of common sense (I know-I know-who are we talking about here) arent their names removed from any subsidies? If they ignore the law – shouldnt there be some kind of a downside? Somewhere? We all continue to pay for their “way of life” – but it seems to me – the Western “way of life” was all about being independent – how can they tell themselves they are independent when you & I and everyone we know is subsidizing them so they can continue to have this life style? And THEN there are the large cattle corporations! I’m betting there are a lot of small ranchers who pasture their livestock on THEIR own land – they’re the ones who are truly living a free, independent life! I wish some of them would come forward and speak up. You cant tell me that seeing these big corporations taking advantage doesnt tick them off.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I say take ALL of their subsidies away, charge them full price for the land that they are destroying and charge them for damages to the land. Let’s see how they like it then. They don’t obey laws so jail them instead of coddling them. These SOBs need a hard lesson in life..


      • According to Ms.Filipini (?) they privately own 2250 AUMs??? More than the BLM! But that doesnt make much sense – since why would they be paying for grazing privileges on their private land???? Exactly how big is an animal unit month! Sure does sound like bs to me.


  3. Stupid ass people in this country are acting like sheep or lemmngs. I reposted this article publicly in hopes that it will go viral!!! I feel that it should be tweeted, facebooked and everything else so we dont hear..well the oublic doesn’t know ……NOW THEY DO!!!


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