Finicum family fighting BLM for grazing rights after death of LaVoy Finicum in Oregon standoff
December 23, 2016
Five Bundy men remained incarcerated over the Christmas holiday for participating in protest movements against the federal government’s land management strategies.
The patriarch, Cliven Bundy, who became well-known in 2014 when the Bureau of Land Management attempted to gather his cattle off BLM range, is being held without bond at Pahrump, Nevada on nine charges. According to his wife Carol, Cliven is being charged with:
– conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States
– conspiracy to impede and injure a federal officer
– assault on a federal officer
– threatening a federal law enforcement officer (“none of this was done,” said his wife Carol)
– use and carry of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence
– obstruction of a due administration of justice
– Interference with interstate commerce by extortion
– interstate travel in aid of extortion
– aiding and abetting
Cliven’s charges stem from his opposition to the BLM’s gathering of his cattle. The BLM made known their plans to gather and market his cattle in the spring of 2014 because Cliven had stopped paying his grazing fees years earlier. A new BLM director gave orders to release the cattle, after a chaotic gather including helicopters that left a number of cattle dead, water sources destroyed and baby calves motherless since the gather happened during calving season.
“We didn’t threaten anybody. We didn’t assault anybody,” said Carol, regarding the protest event that included individuals from around the country showing opposition to the BLM’s attempted cattle gathering.
“They tasered Ammon three times, threw my sister in law to the ground, threw my son Davy to the ground, held him and arrested him and then let him go. My question is, ‘where does the federal government get the authority to have an army to hire contractors who carry guns when it was a peaceful protest?’” Carol said she can prove that Cliven and her sons “were trying to keep it peaceful.”
Besides Cliven, four of her sons are in prison for their roles in the 2014 protest activities.
Ammon and Ryan were also charged for their participation in the Oregon protest in support of the Hammond family, but were acquitted of those conspiracy charges. Ammon has six children, Ryan has eight.
Mel and Dave, fathers to five and six kids respectively are also in prison for taking part in the 2014 protest on their ranch.
Carol said she helps her daughters-in-law financially as she is able, to allow them to continue to live at home with their children.
Cliven is allowed one short call per day so husband and wife do often visit for about 15 minutes per day. “It’s all taped and monitored. A lot of times it’s cut short,” Carol said.
“This is a man who has not been proven guilty and he’s been treated with harsher restrictions than if he was convicted. They let murderers and rapists out. This is unheard of that they would not let these men on a conspiracy charge come home to their families.”
Son Ardon has been helping with ranch work in the absence of Cliven but he will be leaving for a church mission soon, so a son-in-law will help fill the gap, Carol said.
Her husband will never return to trail the cows to winter range again, but Jeanette Finicum is determined that she will get the job done, eventually.
Although she's provided a check to fully cover fines assessed over the last year, the Arizona rancher continues to be locked out of both her winter and summer grazing ranges.
Jeanette, whose husband Robert "LaVoy" Fincium was shot and killed by Oregon State Troopers last January, has managed grazing decisions on their northern Arizona ranch alone since his Jan. 26, 2016 death.
Pounding staples, doctoring sick calves and putting out mineral are on Jeanette's list of tasks to complete throughout the year. Those are the easy jobs. She can soon add a much more painful item to the list: filing suit against the Bureau of Land Management. She plans to file suit within the next two weeks.
“My husband is dead because he went out to help the Hammonds. He stood for them and now they (the federal government) are trying real hard to make an example out of my husband. This is what will happen if you dare stand up. It’s like they are saying ‘you get in your place and don’t get out of it again or we’ll put you in solitary confinement or we’ll kill you.’ That’s what I see happening
— innocent people are in jail right now.” Jeanette Finicum
The Finicums manage two separate grazing permits – summer and winter. Their 16,000 acres of winter range is to be grazed between Oct. 15 and May 15.
During the fall of 2015, LaVoy decided to utilize one pasture of his of winter range that hadn't been grazed in six years. "The grass was really tall and he said, 'I'm going to let the cows use the grass.'" Although his range allotment agreement allows him 169 AUMs, LaVoy had never turned out more than 70 head of cows on his winter range – in fact, many years it was less than that. He put his cattle on this pasture about 40 days before Oct. 15.
In order to best utilize the grass, some of the 70 cows remained on that pasture throughout the winter, and others were moved "on top" to the "mountain" where the rest of the winter range is located.
"As ranchers we take into consideration all of these things – we want to use the grass in a way that is best for the grass," Jeanette said.
Jeanette explains that the land that she and LaVoy always considered their "summer" range is actually a small allotment that allows for maintenance of 35 AUMS year round, but they only used the land in the summer.
"It wouldn't serve that property well (to graze it year round). We want to be good stewards of the range," she said. "I know there are bad apples out there but most ranchers want the land to be well taken care of to be able to produce and stay healthy."
The Finicums' grazing fees have always been paid in full, she explains. Before traveling to Oregon to join protesters in opposition to the arrest of federal land ranchers Steven and Dwight Hammond, LaVoy had announced his plan to begin to pay his grazing fees to the county rather then the feds. He believed that constitutionally the state and county should be managing the land. "He made the announcement that he was no longer going to sign the contract, but the contracts were still in effect." Because of of LaVoy's untimely death, the contract remained intact and grazing fees were paid, Jeanette said.
Jeanette said that the BLM fined her trespass fees for the days the cattle were on the winter allotment prior to Oct. 15, and fees continued to accrue, even after the Oct . 15 turn-out date came and went.
In an effort to reduce the trespass fees to a more reasonable figure, Jeanette negotiated with the BLM throughout the spring. It came to her attention that she would not be allowed to use her "summer" range and she began to look for alternative pasture. Finding none, she felt like she had "nowhere to go," and finally decided to dry-lot her cows and calves, taking them off winter range the first weekend in July.
Although Tri-State Livestock News asked Arizona state BLM representatives a number of questions relating to this subject, their response was brief:
"The Bureau of Land Management has been in contact with attorneys representing Jeanette Finicum and LaVoy Finicum's estate since May 2016, in an attempt to resolve fines associated with a nearly year-long grazing trespass on the Tuckup Allotment," said Amber Cargile, director of communications for Arizona's BLM department.
Jeanette continued negotiations with the BLM to not only lessen the trespass fines, but also to complete other paperwork the BLM was calling for because they were not recognizing her as the allotment owner.
Rather than allow Jeanette to take over the grazing allotments after LaVoy's death, state BLM representatives said she was not considered the heir to the allotments, even though she was the widow of one. They told her the grazing permits terminated upon his death and that she would have to start at square one with the application process to graze her (their) cattle on the allotment. Jeanette said the BLM also told her that her grazing rights are not "inheritable," but she and her attorney disagree. "It is property and an asset to our estate," she said.
The BLM said an environmental impact study would have to be conducted to determine whether or not she was eligible to graze the allotments.
Jeanette's attorney advised her that under BLM rule 43 CFR 4110.2-3, the BLM is required to provide her two years to meet any paperwork requirements, and must allow her to continue to graze her cattle during those two years. Jeanette said she and her attorneys brought this law to the attention of BLM representatives and were told, "we don't do it that way."
"The BLM recognizes that Mrs. Finicum is a personal representative of her late husband's estate. The BLM has been working with Mrs. Finicum and her legal counsel on issues related to both the fees associated with her husband's estate as well as the future of the permit. Due to the ongoing nature of these discussions, we're not at liberty to provide additional details at this time," said BLM's Cargile.
Jeannette drylotted the cows and calves throughout the summer to avoid selling the entire herd. She worked to meet BLM requirements, planning to turn her cattle out on winter range at the proper time without incident. Fines of over $12,000 had mounted over the trespass and when negotiations continued to dead-end, Jeanette decided to pay those fines in full.
With a 50-mile trail to her winter range, Mrs. Finicum had begun moving cattle on Oct. 13, planning to make about 15 miles per day until she arrived. Her mother in law had agreed to deliver a check for $12,355.47, the amount of the trespass fines, and her application required for the BLM's environmental impact study. "I was told we had a deal with the BLM," she remembers.
About one full day into the trail, a messenger arrived telling her that the BLM would not take her check and that she would not be allowed to turn her cattle onto her BLM winter range allotment.
"They said they weren't accepting my check I'm 14 miles into the middle of the desert with cows and calves and nowhere to go," she recalls.
"I had to find another range. My attorney and I, at that point, were still trying to negotiate. We thought it would be less than 30 days and I'd be back on my range. Finally my attorney said, 'Jeanette, this is ridiculous.' They won't even follow their own laws, you need to do something, you need to move forward."
So she decided to file suit.
Jeanette said her sister in law stepped in and offered pasture for her cattle for now.
While she and her late husband always maintained a cordial working relationship with their local BLM office, the state office has now been in communication with her regarding all of these issues, Jeanette said. "My husband and I liked the local range conservationists. We always got along with them. But their hands are tied." She said that the state BLM office only communicates vaguely, such as offering to negotiate but not following through. "They say they want to work with you but then they do nothing.
"They don't want my cows back out there."
She's "a little angry," at the whole situation. "My husband is dead because he went out to help the Hammonds. He stood for them and now they (the federal government) are trying real hard to make an example out of my husband. This is what will happen if you dare stand up. It's like they are saying 'you get in your place and don't get out of it again or we'll put you in solitary confinement or we'll kill you.' That's what I see happening – innocent people are in jail right now," she said, referencing Steven and Dwight Hammond and five members of the Bundy family.
LaVoy was shot to death during last January's protest headquartered on the Malheur Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. While traveling with a caravan of peaceful protesters to a community meeting about federal land issues in nearby John Day,
Oregon, state and federal officers arrested all members of the party except LaVoy, who they killed after he exited his vehicle at a police stop point. The Oregon State Police later claimed that LaVoy was reaching for a weapon.
The Oregon State Police were cleared of any wrongdoing in March when the local investigators determined that the state troopers' fatal shots were justified. But two shots from FBI agents remain under investigation. Initially FBI agents denied taking the shots toward LaVoy as he exited the vehicle with his hands in the air, but it was later proven that the shells were deployed from FBI weapons.
Jeanette said she has filed an intent to sue for wrongful death over LaVoy's murder.