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Nebraska bill to limit permanence of conservation easements

LINCOLN, Neb. – A bill introduced to the Nebraska Legislature by Sen. Dave Murman of Holdredge, would limit the terms of conservation easements to no more than 99 years and give local elected officials greater authority to approve or deny future easements.

LB 1135 is scheduled to be heard before the Unicameral’s Judiciary Committee on the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 11. Comments for the record can be submitted online by visiting the Nebraska Legislature’s website and searching for the bill number. Comments must be received by noon Central Time on Thursday, Feb. 10.

Nebraska is unique in that local county officials can deny conservation easements in the event that such easements conflict with the county’s comprehensive plans. The expanded authority under LB 1135 would provide an avenue for greater local control and oversight.

30×30

On the Federal level, the Biden Administration has used executive orders related to climate change in pursuit of his 30×30 agenda. Executive Order 14008, signed one week after Biden took office, has the end goal of placing 30 percent of all US lands and coastal waters placed into permanent conservation by 2030. Political leaders and property rights advocates have said that permanent conservation or preservation easements are the major mechanism for accomplishing the 30×30 agenda.

“We are on the front lines here and that is why we are asking local folks to examine those conservation easements,” Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said at a June 2021 meeting in York. “I can say that if the Biden administration tries to do something unlawful, we will be on top of it.”

Ricketts was one of the first state governors to raise concerns about 30×30, which has since been rebranded as “America the Beautiful.” After his statewide listening tour, Ricketts hosted county commissioners and ag leaders at the governor’s mansion and signed an executive order to Stop 30×30.

The order, among other things, banned the use of State agency discretionary resources to support projects involving perpetual conservation easements. It also requires approval for using State agency resources to fund conservation easements that are for a term of years.

Carrot and the stick

In Nebraska, skyrocketing property taxes continue to be a major concern for landowners, which makes the potential tax incentives that come from placing land in a permanent conservation easement that much more appealing.

This becomes an even greater concern when out-of-state absentee buyers pay over the market value for land, because this raises the valuation basis for a given county and creates a greater burden for the neighboring working family farms and ranches.

Easements can offset those valuation increases and create a mechanism for easement holders to protest tax increases at the individual county equalization boards. More often than not, however, easements tie the hands of local government bodies and hinder their ability to fund basic services like schools, bridges, and roads.

According to the Land Trust Alliance, in 2015, congress enacted one of the most powerful conservation measures in decades: the enhanced federal income tax incentive for conservation easement donations. However, improper use of federal income tax deductions for both land and conservation easement donations can involve potentially abusive tax shelters.

As the average age of the farmer and rancher in Nebraska is quickly exceeding 55-years-old, with depressed prices, inflation, and increases to valuation, older landowners are faced with increased pressure to give in and place their land into permanent conservation easements.

Opposition

A variety of conservation groups have expressed their dismay with the bill in a joint Op-Ed published in the Omaha World Herald penned by The Nature Conservancy Nebraska’s State Director John Cougher.

“With the introduction of LB 1135 in the Unicameral, this conversation is especially timely,” Cougher wrote. “If passed, this legislation will undermine the benefits of easements and diminish landowner control.”

A source with knowledge of internal policy discussions said that increased pressure from Natural Resources Districts across Nebraska means LB 1135 will likely be left on the table this session. That could change, however, especially if the bill receives enough populist support.

Support

At press time, most of the Nebraska statewide ag groups have yet to release their full legislative positions. Policy insiders have said that LB 1135 would be a welcome step in the right direction, however, some still feel the terms for conservation easements should be limited to 30 years. After all, existing Federal conservation incentives through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), are normally contracted for 5 to 15 year periods.

Landowners are obligated to follow the conditions of the contract and the conditions of the contract cannot be changed under normal circumstances. The difference between those programs and perpetual conservation easements: at the expiration of an NRCS contract, landowners still retain the rights to make choices concerning their land use.

While landowners should be free to use their property as they please, there’s a philosophical argument that restricting land use for perpetuity only hurts younger farmers and ranchers.

“You only get one life to farm,” Dawes County rancher Casey Schuhmacher said. “Controlling land from beyond the grave limits the options and opportunities for future generations.”

USDA Invests $28 Million in New Projects to Help Restore Lost Wetland Functions, Benefits on Agricultural Landscapes

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $28 million in six new Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP) projects and four ongoing ones, which enable conservation partners and producers to work together to return critical wetland functions to agricultural landscapes.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $28 million in six new Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP) projects and four ongoing ones, which enable conservation partners and producers to work together to return critical wetland functions to agricultural landscapes. Partners will contribute $2.82 million, bringing the total investments to $30.82 million.

“Wetlands have tremendous benefits ranging from cleaner water, to flood prevention, to enhancing wildlife habitat to sequestering carbon,” said Terry Cosby, acting Chief for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “The Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership helps partners cover more ground with producers in expanding the footprint of healthy wetlands across our country.”

Since 2014, WREP projects across 11 states have resulted in 136 closed wetland easements and wetland easements pending closure, protecting more than 27,425 acres. In total, NRCS has supported landowners in protecting more than 2.85 million acres through wetland easement programs nationwide.

New projects include:

Tri State: The Nature Conservancy

This existing project seeks to enroll an additional 2,000 acres per state, totaling 6,000 acres, in Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE). The project focuses on restoring forested wetlands within priority portions of the Mississippi Alluvial Valley in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, including specifically targeting priority watersheds of the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative area. The proposed project is Phase III of a continuing effort that began in 2017. Existing efforts have resulted in more than 3,800 acres of easements that have been acquired or are pending in the project area to date. NRCS will invest $8.35 million for the first year.

Iowa Skunk River: Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources

This existing project, which initially targeted 1,800 acres for habitat restoration and permanent protection, now seeks to enroll and restore 700 to 1,000 additional acres of riverine wetland and grassland habitats. Now in its second phase, the project aims to restore important monarch habitats through floodplain wetland and grassland restoration, restore off-channel and wet meadow wetlands, and provide reduced sediment and nutrient delivery to the Skunk River system. First-year activities are fully funded by partner contributions.

Bayou du Chien: The Nature Conservancy

This project seeks to enroll 2500 acres over the next three years to improve wildlife habitat through the development of large, contiguous blocks of protected land to benefit priority species. It also aims to improve water quality in both local watersheds and the greater Mississippi River basin by directly reducing excess nutrients and sediments through floodplain reconnection and restoration. NRCS will invest $3.15 million for the first year.

Lower Mississippi River Batture Phase VI: Mississippi River Trust

This existing project seeks to build on sustainability efforts and water management in the active floodplain of the Lower Mississippi River, or the Batture, thus providing significant ecological, economic and societal benefits. Partners propose to facilitate the enrollment of an additional 9,000 acres of privately owned, predominately cleared, flood prone land in wetland easements along the Batture area. The project also helps agricultural producers by removing frequently flooded land from production and eliminating the expenses and subsidies associated with farming that land. The proposed project is phase six of a continuing effort that began in 2012. Current efforts under phases one through five have resulted in acquired easements or easements pending for more than 22,000 acres of land in the project area. First-year activities are fully funded by partner contributions.

Texas Mid-Coast Initiative: Ducks Unlimited, Inc

This project seeks to enroll nearly 700 acres of wetlands to conserve priority wetland habitats for migratory birds and other state and federally listed species through restoration and enhancement efforts. The project also aims to improve habitat conditions for fish and wildlife and to improve the overall health and freshwater flows of streams and riparian areas into the coastal bays and estuaries. Land protection through wetland conservation easements and subsequent restoration activities will ensure that habitat needs are met for critical wildlife species and that these systems will function as intended to improve water quality and quantity over the landscape and eventually into the coastal bays and estuaries. NRCS will invest more than $970,000 for the first year.

Nebraska Playa Wetlands: Nebraska Community Foundation

This project seeks to enroll 450 acres of playa wetlands to protect, restore, and manage wetland ecosystems and associated uplands. Restoration of these wetlands and associated upland buffers will help provide habitat for a variety of plants and animals that depend on thriving wetlands, wetland forests and grasslands, and creating a win-win situation for producers, migratory birds, resident wildlife and the citizens of rural communities. Wetland restorations are expected to address multiple resource concerns, including wildlife habitat, water quality and water quantity. NRCS will invest more than $860,000 for the first year.

The balance of the $28 million initial NRCS investment after the above projects are funded is $14.7 million which provides funding for four projects now in their second year.

Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is engaged in a whole-of-government effort to combat the climate crisis and conserve and protect our nation’s lands, biodiversity, and natural resources including our soil, air and water. Through conservation practices and partnerships, USDA aims to enhance economic growth and create new streams of income for farmers, ranchers, producers and private foresters. Successfully meeting these challenges will require USDA and our agencies to pursue a coordinated approach alongside USDA stakeholders, including State, local, and Tribal governments.

About WREP

WREP is a component of ACEP-WRE through which NRCS enters into agreements with eligible partners to target and leverage resources to address high priority wetland protection, restoration, and enhancement activities and improve wildlife habitat on eligible lands. WREP enables NRCS to collaborate with partners on high-priority wetland restoration projects to return critical wetland functions and improve wildlife habitat.

Through selected WREP projects, partners voluntarily work with agricultural producers to execute targeted wetland protection, restoration and enhancement activities on eligible agriculture lands. WREP enables effective integration of wetland restoration on working agricultural landscapes, providing meaningful benefits to farmers and ranchers who enroll in the program and to the communities where the wetlands exist.

Restoring wetland ecosystems helps filter sediments and chemicals to improve water quality downstream, enhance wildlife and aquatic habitat, reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater and offers recreational benefits.

How to Get Involved

Are you looking to help restore the quality and abundance of our nation’s wetlands? Check with your local USDA Service Center for wetland restoration project opportunities. NRCS will determine if the acres you offer are eligible for the program. Agricultural producers with high priority acres, based on competitive selection, may receive an offer.

Hope for the Hammonds: Interior Secretary reinstates Oregon family’s BLM grazing permit

Nearly five years after the BLM revoked their grazing permit, the Hammond family, which attracted nationwide attention for their prison sentence for arson, and subsequent presidential pardon, can plan to turn cattle onto their BLM rangeland this spring.

The family’s BLM permit has been renewed, after Brendan Cain with the local BLM office refused to renew it February 14, 2014, saying that the family did not have a “satisfactory record of performance.” In the denial document, Cain went into great detail outlining alleged offenses by the Hammonds. This included the arson they were found guilty of, as well as numerous claims that were thrown out in court, and others that the court ruled the Hammonds were not guilty of.

In a document dated Jan. 28, 2019, the Hammond family, along with the Harney County Stockgrowers Association, the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation, received word from former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke that he has instructed the BLM to “renew the grazing permit at issue under the same terms and conditions for the balance of the renewal period.” Zinke signed the document on Jan. 2 but it was not mailed until later due to the government shutdown.

Dwight Hammond said on Jan. 29 that he had not had a chance to talk to the BLM or an attorney about the news.

“It sounds like things are in order,” he said, regarding the family’s grazing permit.

The elder of the father-son duo who was imprisoned and later pardoned by President Trump for lighting two fires that burned around 140 acres of BLM land, very much appreciates the support of friends, neighbors, agriculture and property rights groups, and those around the nation who helped bring his family’s plight to the president’s attention. And although he’s pleased with the news, challenges within the industry are much bigger and remain unresolved, he said.

“This is a win for the Hammonds but the industry still has some work to do. I don’t mind being the whipping boy, whatever you want to call it. I’m 77 years old, what are they going to do, take my birthday away?” But Dwight believes that the treatment his family has endured is a symptom of a bigger problem.

“I feel strongly that they took something away that wasn’t theirs to take. We’ve had this permit 50 years and big brother wants to throw his weight around and take it away. I’m sorry but it’s not theirs to take away. When President Trump says he wants to drain the swamp, this is the type of thing I think he means. This was overreach of big brother,” said Dwight.

“The people that are losing their permits from the wild horses, I feel terrible about that. We’ve regained our ground. I don’t see that they are going to get the horse deal understood before those people are totally out of business. What in the world is America thinking about?”

Steven Hammond is also forever grateful to the thousands of individuals and groups who fought for his and his father’s pardon.

“If I have one regret through this whole process, it’s my lack of ability to thank the people who supported us and wrote cards and letters. As simple as they were, they made a world of difference,” said Steven in his first media interview in at least five years. The bond that he’s formed with those across the country – many of whom he will never meet, but who showed support for him and his family – is significant.

But Steven agrees with his father that the challenges facing livestock production and the entire nation are much bigger than the Hammonds.

“The way this whole ordeal was decided – politically, not through the justice department – we’ve spent a lifetime making these issues as confusing as we can. We need simplicity put back in it.”

The BLM is in a tough position as well, Steven believes. “It’s easy to hate the government but there are some great people who have the greatest of intentions. Then you get some conflicting ideas and pressures, and they don’t know how to react or what to react to. I wouldn’t want that job for anything.”

Still, Steven observes that one overriding challenge regarding bureaucratic decision-makers is the lack of accountability. “They don’t seem to feel indebted to the taxpayer anymore. The idea of being a public servant has been lost a long time ago.”

But life’s too short to focus on the negative, says Steven, explaining that he gained a new perspective while in federal prison for approximately 18 months.

Some people thank him for serving as a representative, albeit perhaps a reluctant one, for federal land ranchers. “When you get the chance to sit down for as long as I did you get a perspective on life that you can truly appreciate,” he said. “Sometimes I tell people that I found something that you can’t even afford to buy. I can look at life in a broader sense and am capable of seeing so much more than I ever could before.”

Although Steven admits he would have taken a different path if one had been available, God has blessed him and his family throughout the trials and difficulties. “I don’t think there were ever guarantees that life would be easy, He just said he’d be there to help us get through it.”

Still, the husband and father of three says he wishes that life would get back to normal. “But it doesn’t seem like there is normal anymore.”

And while he loves the ranching lifestyle, Steven said there are times that doubt creeps into his mind when he’s looking ahead to the future of agriculture. “When we do figure out what we’ve got, I want to see if it’s something I even want to hand over to my kids. My dad did me a heck of a favor, letting me join him in this business, but every now and then I cuss him.”

Jeffrey Rose, the Burns, Oregon, BLM district manager, confirmed that his office did receive word on Jan. 28 that the Hammond family’s grazing permit would be reinstated.

“I didn’t know it was going to go that way,” he said.

Rose said that Hammond Ranches, Incorporated’s, permit generally allows for an April turnout date, and that is what he and the family are shooting for this year. “We meet with permittees and determine their turnout date based on range condition in their operation. I think the earliest they can turn out is April. That would be the goal, to get them out based on what their permit was,” said Rose.

The land has not been grazed by livestock in the five years since their permit renewal was denied.

BLM permits are good for 10 years at a time, so since this one was scheduled to renew in 2014, it will be up for renewal again in 2024.

Jeff Maupin, the president of the Harney County Stockgrowers Association, said he and the former president, Travis Williams, along with Wayne Smith and the HCSA executive committee worked together earlier this year to procure the services of Wyoming attorney Karen Budd-Falen (now the U.S. Deputy solicitor for Wildlife and Parks) and another lawyer in her office, Conner Nicklas, to submit an amicus brief urging the judge to rule in favor of Hammond Ranches, Inc., and reinstate their grazing permit in light of the fact that Dwight Hammond and Steven Hammond had received a full pardon from President Trump.

They received word on Dec. 26, that the Secretary of the Department of Interior had assumed jurisdiction over the Hammond Ranches, Inc., v. Bureau of Land Management case (the Hammond family’s request for reinstatement of their permit).

“We felt pretty good about it at that point,” said Erin Maupin, friend and neighbor of the Hammonds, and Jeff Maupin’s wife.

Jeff received word Jan. 28, 2019, that Secretary Zinke had, indeed, decided to renew the Hammonds’ grazing permit.

Jeff, Williams, Smith, the entire membership of the Harney County Stockgrowers, along with the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and the Oregon Farm Bureau, who both filed supporting briefs, and many more are to credit for the decision, said Erin.

The 25-page brief that Budd-Falen authored and submitted was intriguing, she said, and laid out the argument that, because the Hammonds received a full pardon, the government should be required to “give back” anything that had been taken while they were under the assumption of guilt.

“They did a lot of research. They had to go all the way back to the Civil War to find something that was similar,” said Erin. Indeed, the brief references President Lincoln’s pardoning of the Confederate soldiers following the war, and that the Supreme Court ruled in 1862 that an individual was entitled to property that had been confiscated during the war because the soldiers had been totally pardoned.

“I don’t mind being a lighting rod but I certainly hope it does more good than it has,” Dwight said. “Yes, we got our permit back and it’s a wonderful win, but it’s not what I’ve been worried about and fighting for. It’s not the big picture.”

Dwight and Steven were taken to federal prison Jan. 4, 2016. On July 10, 2018, the two men were fully pardoned by President Trump and were released from the Federal Correctional Institution, Terminal Island in California, and allowed to return home.

Cliven, Ammon and Ryan Bundy walk free after Judge Navarro dismisses case with prejudice

Judge Gloria Navarro of the Nevada District Court dismissed “with prejudice” the case against Cliven Bundy and his sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and Ryan Payne on Jan. 8. This means federal prosecutors will not have the option to reopen or retry the case.

Ryan Payne will now travel to Oregon to await trial for charges related to the Malheur Refuge protest that he, the Bundys and others staged in 2016. While other participants in that takeover were found innocent, Payne pled guilty and continues to await trial.

Judge Navarro set Feb. 26 as the date to begin the trial for four more men involved in the standoff – Dave Bundy, Mel Bundy, Joe O’Shaughnessy and Jason Woods, known by the court as “tier 2 defendants.”

It was discovered in December that the prosecution violated the “Brady Rule” at least seven times, by willfully withholding evidence that it should have shared with the defense. The revelation of these violations eventually led Navarro to dismiss the case, Bryan Hyde, a reporter with “Who’s Next” news reported that the judge said the prosecution, led by Steven Myhre acted in ways that were “especially egregious,” “grossly shocking,” and she also talked about “flagrant prosecutorial misconduct,” “reckless disregard” and more. She said the only fair recourse was not to have another trial but to dismiss it because it involved a serious constitutional violation and there was a need to preserve judicial integrity and prevent future misconduct on the part of the government.

The judge was referring not only to the fact that evidence was withheld, but the blatantly arrogant way with which it was withheld, said Hyde.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, late last month, said he was calling for an investigation into the government’s handling of the case – including multiple instances of mishandling of evidence.

The investigation probably will be conducted by investigative attorneys, said Roger Roots who serves on Cliven Bundy’s legal team. While there is no way of knowing how long the investigation will last, the investigators will be looking at then-acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre’s Brady violations. Myhre, who was appointed acting U.S. attorney by President Donald Trump about a year ago, recently was replaced because his one-year appointment ended.

Sessions made the call to look into Myhre’s handling of the case when Judge Navarro last month declared a mistrial, saying it would have been “impossible” for the four co-defendants to receive a fair trial because of the willful witholding of evidence in at least seven instances by the prosecution.

Ryan Bundy said the Jan. 8 dismissal with prejudice was not unexpected.

“We’re not surprised by the judge’s decision. It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “We knew we were not guilty of these crimes, we knew that the truth would be revealed.”

Judge Navarro, who from the beginning prevented the defense from talking about the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, the BLM’s use of force and other such matters, showed bias against the Bundy family early on, Ryan Bundy said.

“It’s terrible, judges are supposed to be neutral but she was decidedly on the side of the government. I believe it is that way in most cases. The government has a 98 or 99 percent conviction rate. Many judges are past prosecutors and they have the mindset that everyone is guilty.”

Bundy said he doesn’t think that the judge necessarily believes in the innocence of the Bundy family but that “the truth was out so plainly that she could not deny it. She couldn’t rule any other way without being in gross misconduct. She had to protect herself.”

Social media did help the Bundy family garner support and keep those interested in their situation informed.

Ryan Bundy said that he had been out of prison, albeit with an ankle bracelet to track his movement, since mid-November but that his father Cliven had not been released until the day of the dismissal, Jan. 8. “He already ditched me,” Ryan said of Cliven.”He’s ready to get home.”

Ryan, who ranches with his father (some of the children, including Ammon, no longer live or work on the ranch), does not fear the federal government or any future attempts to collect money.

“We own the rights. That’s what we’ve been saying. Grazing fees are a fabrication of the federal government. They don’t own the land. We aren’t going to make a contract with the federal government. Why would we pay a grazing fee?” he asked.

Cliven Bundy said if the BLM shows up again to take his cattle, he will call on the local authorities for protection.

“I will call our county sheriff. It is his duty to protect our life liberty and property,” he said.

Ryan said he and his father paid a visit to their county sheriff this week, but he avoided them.

“We will have a talk with him. If he won’t do his job then we’ll replace him. That’s the good thing about this kind of government.”

Charges against the Bundy men ranged from conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, conspiracy to impede and injure a federal officer to use and carry of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and interstate travel in aid of extortion.

The indictments are not directly related to money the Bundy family owes the federal government for grazing Bureau of Land Management land. The charges stemmed from a “standoff” in April of 2014 when the BLM attempted to gather Cliven Bundy’s cattle and the Bundy family along with hundreds of supporters from around the country protested the government’s removal of family’s cattle from the ranch.

The BLM said they were gathering the cattle to sell them, to settle a debt they said the Bundys owed for about 20 years of unpaid fees on BLM land. The BLM turned the cattle loose and left the Bundy ranch after the actions escalated to a “standoff” between federal agents and Bundy supporters, many of which were armed on both sides. F

Coyotes and Wolves and Bears, Oh My! Predators can have a serious effect on ranchers’ bottom line

Kristy Wardell knows what it looks like when a coyote kills a sheep. And when a wolf kills a sheep. And when a grizzly bear kills a sheep. She’ll tell you she’s had entirely too much experience with the remains of predator attacks on livestock.  

Wardell’s family has raised sheep and cattle near Fontenelle, Wyoming for decades, running on private land and government allotments.  

Wolves have recently become more of a problem. Wardell suspects two wolf attacks this summer and fall, each resulting in the deaths of eight to 10 ewes. “Coyotes don’t kill eight to 10 in one night and just leave,” she said. Staff from the USDA Wildlife Service never made contact with the sheepherder, so the attacks weren’t confirmed, but two neighbors who had similar attacks had them confirmed as wolf kills.  

When they were on the Upper Green, Elk Ridge complex of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, allotment, the largest allotment in the Forest Service system, they had a lot more trouble with all predators, but especially grizzly bears. “If we didn’t have them in an electric fence every night they’d (grizzly bears) scatter sheep everywhere. They’d hit them and just slaughter them there,” Wardell said.  

The Forest Service began requiring an electric fence, which had to be moved every day. “The fence was a good thing,” Wardell said, in spite of being required to move the 1400 to 2100-foot electric fences every day. 

When they were running sheep in that allotment they lost as many as 300 ewes and 200 lambs per year. Last year they gave up that allotment because of increased regulation. In an attempt to get something out of a situation that was rapidly degenerating, Wardell’s family sold it in a deal put together by the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation. “They [the government agencies] were micromanaging and they were going to violate us off [keep finding violations until they could cancel the permit], then we wouldn’t have anything,” Wardell said. 

This year, without the allotment, they lost 33 ewes and 65 lambs, thanks to wolves and coyotes. “We almost went into shock because we haven’t had near the predator losses because of where we were at,” Wardell said.  

Predator Problems 

While many ranchers don’t have to worry about grizzly bears when they’re out night-checking, some have to worry about mountain lions, and the concern over coyotes is nearly universal. 

“The coyote is the number-one predator since it’s so common,” said John Steuber, Montana state director/supervisory wildlife biologist for U.S. Department of Agriculture APHIS Wildlife Services. “Although the larger predators like the wolves and grizzly bears receive more attention, coyotes are the main predator, especially of sheep and young calves. They are wide-ranging carnivores who range all over the state (and almost all states) and cause damage in every area.” 

Steuber explains that wolf depredation varies from year-to-year, but has been dropping. “Some of this can be attributed to the hunting and trapping season in Montana, as the state’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks has more than 200 wolves legally harvested with a wolf license.” 

In Wyoming, landowners in some areas can kill wolves at any time without a license, and in other areas a license is required from Oct. 15 to the end of February, but no license is required for the rest of the year. In another area hunting is allowed only with a license and during the hunting season.  

Wardell said only one wolf has been killed from the pack they think attacked her sheep and the neighbors’. “They’re so smart it’s hard to shoot them. The wolves are hitting in the middle of the night. It’s pretty hard to do anything with them when it’s like that.” 

One of the reasons cattle numbers killed by wolves may be higher than sheep is because of the sheer number cattle vs sheep on summer range. “There are a lot more cattle allotments than sheep allotments,” Steuber says. 

Grizzly bears are expanding their range, so predation is increasing. “They are moving east of the Rocky Mountains and some have been seen near Tiber Damn, some by Sanford. One was just seen in the Big Belt Mountains,” Steuber says. “They are heading east. Historically they were east of the Rockies, but haven’t been there for 100 years. A grizzly is not as apt to kill for food as they eat roots, plants, moths and other dead stuff. As you get the bears moving into cattle country, however, there will be increasing predation.” 

Wardell has seen that first-hand. “We have an overabundance of both wolves and bears. There are just too many. We have wolves clear down where we live. That’s bad news. They shouldn’t be down there. They need to be thinned down. I’m not sure what the answer is or how to do it.”   

 

Finding the culprit 

Wildlife predation determination takes detective work. The first step is finding out how an animal was killed, which may lead to the predator. “Coyotes generally grab an animal by the throat, causing their victim to die of suffocation.  Then they will start feeding on the animal. Sometimes there won’t be a big wound from the outside because they grab onto the throat and hold it. Sometimes there is nothing harmful visible until the dead animal is skinned and you can then see the trauma at the throat.” 

“Remember not all animals are the same or kill the same,” says Steuber. “The main thing we will look for is to make sure the animal was alive when it was killed. All of these predators will scavenge a carcass. You look to see if the animal bled or look for tissues that shows bruising where the bite marks are. The distance between canines can help identify the killer, as well.” 

The grizzly will grab and animal by the face and crush the nasal area. Often they will bite along the backbone when attacking something large, like adult cattle. Attacks by cougars/mountain lions are usually on the underside of the neck as they crush the windpipe and puncture the neck. With smaller animals, they attack the base of the neck or top of the skull. 

Knowing animal tracks and feces may help to identity the predator, but may not be entirely accurate.  

If you find a dead animal you suspect has been killed a predator, it’s important to protect the carcass. Cover it with a tarp to keep magpies and eagles away, then call the USDA Wildlife Services, who conduct all the investigations.  

“The USDA Wildlife Service is the only group who can confirm the kill for compensation,” says Steuber. “You don’t need to call you state fish and wildlife department—call USDA Wildlife Services in your state. They will interview the resource owner, travel to the site and conduct an investigation, performing a complete necropsy. The animal will be skinned from nose to hoof. Sometimes it can be very difficult to tell because predators are also scavengers. Say coyotes kill a calf, but a grizzly bear came along and took it over. Or sometimes wolves will kill a cow and a grizzly will take it over. Maybe the animal died of natural causes, then the wolves got it and then the grizzly came along. It really is quite an art and science to identification.” 

Other predators include mountain lions/cougars, black bears and birds of prey. 

Depredation by birds such as ravens or eagles tends to be localized, and is more common in high-density situations, such as calving pens. According to Steuber, birds tend to prey on very young calves, often while it’s being born not only killing the calf but doing extensive damage to the cow. 

There are ways to try to mitigate losses. More sheep producers are bringing their ewes into a lambing shed, resulting in a reduction in predator control. This especially saves the animals from depredation by eagles and ravens. Steuber says if you can keep newborn calves close to home until they are two to three months old, it helps reduce predation. If possible, bringing the animals into a night pen can help. Herders can keep predators at bay, as can guard dogs.  Guard dogs can be very effective against coyotes, but are less effective against wolves.  

“We just completed a study on different breeds of guard dogs that are effective against wolves,” says Steuber.  

The agency is looking at an electric fence system called turbo fladry—an electric fence with flags on it— in the northwest part of Montana. “It’s novel and different, and wolves are afraid of it. “Of course, when the novelty wears off, the wolves may then approach the fence, but it’s electrified. We’re hoping that will reinforce the wolves staying away and give very young animals time to mature.” 

“Last year, we put fladry out on nine properties with assistance from some wildlife groups,” says Steuber. “This is for use with small 40-60-acre pastures. It’s not practical for large pastures, as it costs $3,000 per mile. However, you can use it year after year. You can get about 3-4 years out of the flags and wire, but the posts and solar charger go longer. We’re seeing success with this.” 

Judge dismisses Bundy case: Charges dropped, Cliven, Ammon, Ryan go home

Judge Gloria Navarro of the Nevada District Court dismissed “with prejudice” the case against Cliven Bundy and his sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and Ryan Payne. This means federal prosecutors will not have the option to reopen or retry the case. The Bundy men are free. As of about 1 p.m. today, Cliven was already on his way to the ranch near Bunkerville, Nevada.

Ryan Payne will now travel to Oregon to await trial for charges related to the Malheur Refuge protest that he, the Bundys and others staged in 2016. While all other participants in that takeover were found innocent, Payne pled guilty and continues to await trial.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, late last month, said he was calling for an investigation into the government’s handling of the case – including multiple instances of mishandling of evidence.

The investigation will probably be conducted by investigative attorneys, said Roger Roots who serves on Cliven Bundy’s legal team. While there is no way of knowing how long the investigation will last, the investigators will be looking at then-acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre’s brady violations. Myhre, who was appointed acting U.S. attorney by President Trump about a year ago, was recently replaced because his one-year appointment had ended.

Ryan Bundy spoke with Tri-State Livestock news after Navarro’s announcement today.

“We’re not surprised by the judge’s decision. It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “We knew we were not guilty of these crimes, we knew that the truth would be revealed.”

Judge Navarro, who from the beginning prevented the defense from talking about the First Amendment or the Second Amendment or the BLM’s snipers, and many other topics, showed bias against the Bundy family early on, Ryan Bundy said.

“It’s terrible, judges are supposed to be neutral but she was decidedly on the side of the government. I believe it is that way in most cases. The government has a 98 or 99 percent conviction rate. Many judges are past prosecutors and they have the mindset that everyone is guilty.”

Bundy said he doesn’t think that the judge necessarily believes in the innocence of the Bundy family but that “the truth was out so plainly that she could not deny it. She couldn’t rule any other way without being in gross misconduct. She had to protect herself.”

It was discovered in December that the prosecution violated the “Brady rule” at least seven times, by willfully withholding evidence that it should have shared with the defense.

Bryan Hyde, a reporter with “Who’s Next” news reported that the judge said the prosecution, led by Steven Myhre acted in ways that were “especially egregious,” “grossly shocking,” and she also talked about “flagrant prosecutorial misconduct,” “reckless disregard,” and more. She said the only fair recourse was not to have another trial but to dismiss it because it involved a serious constitutional violation and there was a need to preserve judicial integrity and prevent future misconduct on the part of the government.

The judge was referring not only to the fact that evidence was withheld, but the blatantly arrogant way with which it was withheld, said Hyde.

Ryan Bundy said that he had been out of prison, albeit with an ankle bracelet to track his movement, since mid-November but that his father Cliven had not been released until just today. “He already ditched me,” Ryan said of Cliven.”He’s ready to get home.”

Ryan, who ranches with his father (some of the children, including Ammon, no longer live or work on the ranch), does not fear the federal government or any future attempts to collect money.

“We own the rights. That’s what we’ve been saying. Grazing fees are a fabrication of the federal government. They don’t own the land. We aren’t going to make a contract with the federal government. Why would we pay a grazing fee?” he asked.

“Why do any ranchers pay grazing fees? Why don’t they stand stand upon the rights that they have and cancel the contracts with the federal government? The land belongs to each state and her people. Read the constitution,” he said.

Ryan Bundy said he and his family do not own the dirt but they own the grass. “We don’t claim ownership to the land, we claim ownership the feed that grows upon it, and of course the water. Feed without water is no good and water without feed is no good.”

He said they also own the improvements they have financed on the BLM land.

Ryan and Cliven Bundy intend to make a visit to the local sheriff’s office soon, maybe tomorrow (Jan. 9). “We’d like to talk to him about him doing his job,” Bundy said.

Ryan looks forward to enjoying his family’s company later today.

Charges against the Bundy men ranged from conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, conspiracy to impede and injure a federal officer to use and carry of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and interstate travel in aid of extortion.

The indictments are not directly related to money the Bundy family owes the federal government for grazing Bureau of Land Management land. The charges stemmed from a “standoff” in April of 2014 when the BLM attempted to gather Cliven Bundy’s cattle and the Bundy family along with hundreds of supporters from around the country protested the government’s removal of family’s cattle from the ranch.

The BLM said they were gathering the cattle to sell them, to settle a debt they said the Bundys owed for several years of unpaid grazing “fees” on BLM land. The BLM turned the cattle loose and left the Bundy ranch after the actions escalated to an armed “standoff” between federal agents and Bundy supporters, many of which were armed on both sides.

 

Judge rules mistrial in Bundy case

Judge Gloria Navarro sent the jury home and declared a mistrial in the Bundy “standoff” case involving Cliven, Ammon, Ryan Bundy, Ryan Payne and several others. The judge said she believes the prosecution willfully withheld evidence about BLM snipers and marksmen, surveillance cameras, logs and maps, threat assessments regarding the Bundys, and more said reporter Brian Hyde. In each of these cases, the government, in the judge’s opinion, willfully withheld information that weakened the defense’s case. The judge also commented that there was too much potential prejudice for the trial to be fair. The prosecution may still decide to re-try the case.

Attorney Roger Roots who serves on Cliven’s defense team said that Cliven remains incarcerated. Although he was offered pre-trial release at the end of November, he declined, and she rescinded the offer. Roots said the Cliven does not want to be released with any conditions such as an ankle bracelet, etc., and the judge is not willing to release him without conditions.

While a second trial is set to begin Feb. 26, there is also a possibility that there will not be another trial.

In the case of a mistrial, the prosecution can decide whether or not to initiate another trial.

Roots expects the judge to dismiss the case. He said that the attorneys on both sides were given until Dec. 28th to provide briefs to the judge to argue for dismissal “with prejudice” or “without prejudice.”

“The defense will be arguing that the whole thing needs to be dismissed with prejudice and it should be over after all of these violations,” said Roots.

If the judge dismisses “with prejudice,” the case is closed, and can’t be re-tried, but if she dismisses “without prejudice,” the indictment is dismissed, but the prosecution could initiate a new trial with the same charges.

The briefs will be discussed in the courtroom on Jan. 8, along with a hearing on a motion by the Las Vegas Review Journal to open up all of the sealed documents and transcripts of all of the sealed hearings, said Roots.

The attorneys and defendants have been under a gag order for the secret hearings secret orders, which is highly unusual, said Roots. It appears that from now forward the judge will not allow as much secretive activity. “The judge more or less ruled that from now on everything should be in a public document. I think the judge has been under a little pressure because she’d been doing so much behind the scenes that the public hasn’t been able to see what’s going on in the last month.”

Roots said the case was declared a mistrial based on a number of “Brady violations” or instances of the prosecutors – federal attorneys – withholding evidence that could have been used to prove the defendants innocent.

He said Ryan Bundy alleges that there is information being withheld that would prove that the BLM tried to eliminate Cliven’s water rights in 2008. “The Brady violations that the judge found are just the tip of the iceberg and there are more coming down the pike that are even more embarrassing for the government,” said Roots.

Bundy case declared mistrial

Judge Gloria Navarro sent the jury home and declared a mistrial for the Bundy “standoff” case involving Cliven, Ammon, Ryan Bundy and several others. The judge said she believes the prosecution willfully withheld evidence about BLM snipers and marksmen, surveillance cameras, logs and maps, threat assessments regarding the Bundys, said reporter Brian Hyde. In each of these cases, the government, in the judge’s opinion, willfully withheld information that weakened the defense’s case in her opinion, he reported, and said that the judge had commented that there was too much potential prejudice for this to be a fair trial. The prosecution may still decide to re-try the case.

 

From Carol Bundy, posted on Bundy Ranch Facebook page:

Today our prayers were heard and that the current trial against my husband, sons and other defendants was declared a mistrial. We wanted a dismissal but are grateful that the truth is getting out. We are a step closer to freedom.

Although the case is not over and there will continue to be lots of legal back and forth I needed to thank you, on behalf of our entire family for your prayers and support.

You stood with my family when it would have been easier to look the other way. You shared our message so the media eventually had to begin covering the truth.

It’s been almost two years since my husband has been home, had a home cooked meal and was able to wear his cowboy hat. I’m hopeful that soon we’ll be able to enjoy those simple things that so many times we simply took for granted.

I consider you family.

Merry Christmas,

Carol Bundy

 

Bundy Trial: Jury sent home for now

Yesterday, Dec. 11, Judge Gloria Navarro sent jurors home for several days to give herself, the defense the time to gather evidence it has been withholding.

According to Brian Hyde, who has reported on the trial from the beginning, reported that Judge Navarro said in the courtroom that the jury will be out until at least Dec. 20 because of several alleged instances of the prosecution withholding evidence.

Roger Roots, who serves on Cliven Bundy’s defense team, said that this case is being handled very strangely and that appears that it could be “heading toward being dismissed on prosecutorial misconduct.”

In his experience, just one “Brady Violation” or instance of the defense withholding evidence from the prosecution in enough to have a trial “thrown out” or declared a mistrial. Roots said that the prosecution – in this case the federal government’s attorney team – is always required to provide to the defense any exculpatory evidence, or evidence that could help prove the defendant innocent of the charges, even if the evidence is not requested by the prosecution.

The judge, on Dec. 11 acknowledged seven “Brady Violations.”

Judge Navarro has, throughout the multiple trials of the Bundy standoff participants, denied the defense the right to talk about self defense, the first amendment, the second amendment or even to mention the word “Constitution” in her courtroom.

Three of the main instances of the federal government’s attorneys withholding evidence are these:

1. The prosecution made claims that the Bundy family’s recollection of snipers surrounding their ranch was false. But the defense presented evidence proving that indeed, snipers were present on the ranch.

2. The prosecution claimed that the FBI wasn’t involved in the roundup of the cattle but the defense proved that the FBI and an anti-terrorism SWAT team was on their ranch prior to the cattle roundup.

3. The prosecution said that the government did not place surveillance technology on the Bundy ranch but the defense showed that this, too was false.

“There are no less than seven alleged Brady violations which are instances of the prosecution withholding evidence that could have been provided to the defense ahead of this time,” said Hyde.

Hyde said that the judge mentioned the word “mistrial,” but that her uttering the word was in no way a sure sign of a mistrial, but that could be a possibility.

“The judge has seen enough of a problem that she’s sent the jury home until at the 20th. We don’t even know of they will be back on the 20th,” he said.

Roots explained that if the judge decides the trial won’t continue, she could declare a mistrial or a dismissal.

If she calls a mistrial, the prosecution could decide to walk away from the case, or to reopen it. If they reopen it they can do so using the same indictments.

The judge has two options when declaring a dismissal – “with prejudice” or “without prejudice.”

According to Roots, if the judge declares it “with prejudice,” the prosecutors are not allowed to revive the case but if it is declared “without prejudice,” that means the defendants could be retried.

Roots also said that Judge Navarro has called for more “secret hearings” – at least four – in this trial than he’s ever seen before. Most of the secret hearings have been in regard to the former BLM staffer who called for and oversaw the cattle roundup – Dan Love, who has since been fired by the BLM after it was discovered that he was using the power of his position improperly.

On Dec. 4 the AP reported that the remaining Bundy standoff participants had been granted pretrial release – and that all of them are now allowed to be out of prison during the trial.

Mel Bundy, Dave Bundy, Joseph O’Shaughnessy and Jason Woods were the final four given pretrial release.

Bundy family patriarch Cliven Bundy has chosen to remain in prison to call attention to the issue until it is resolved, he said. Roots said that although Judge Navarro gave Cliven the opportunity for pre-trial release she later rescinded it.

“Get off my Lawn” Interview with Carrie Stadheim

Tri-State Livestock News editor Carrie Stadheim addresses the monument shrinkage, the Bundy issue and the Hammonds’ imprisonment with Gavin McInnes on his show, “Get off my Lawn.”


Stewards of the Land: Ranchers, Livestock and Federal Lands
Editor’s Note: We have compiled a list of all the articles we have published, as well as a timeline of the events, surrounding the Bundy Standoff and other incidents relating to government control of public lands such as the Hammond Fire Trial and the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Click here to read more.