Cowboys, girls ride into DC for Grass March
The best part of her ride across the nation was meeting fellow Americans from “sea to shining sea” who support their cause, said Eddyann Filipini.
“It’s unbelievable. The incredible, decent, God-loving American people. It has been the greatest experience of my life. I have made some friends I would have never thought. I wouldn’t trade these last three weeks for any part of my life. I’m glad I signed on and said yes,” the Nevada rancher said of the 20-day ride across America that she and other Grass March Cowboy Express riders completed Oct. 17.
On Oct. 16, right on schedule, the group saddled up, for the 19th day in a row, and rode east swiftly in the pre-dawn light. Their destination that day was specific. They were to meet at the nation’s capitol with their congressional delegates in what is unfamiliar territory for the ranchers, but home turf for the lawmakers. The group had ridden horseback from San Fransciso, Calif. to Washington, D.C., in a show of frustration and a call for change in regard to the way the federal government manages BLM land in Nevada and other western states.
Grant Gerber, an attorney from northeastern Nevada who has represented ranching families in water rights legal battles, helped organize the Grass March. He said bystanders watched, photographed and asked many questions. “We crossed the Frances Scott Key bridge, across the Potomac and then rode right up Constitution Avenue, past the National Mall, past the all the memorials – Lincoln and Jefferson and then George Washington on the right and past the Interior Department and clear on up to just below the capitol where we had the rally.”
Gerber said a motorcade of police cars and motorcycles escorted them through the city.
He said the group met with several congressional and senatorial aides and chiefs of staff at the nation’s capitol and presented a petition asking for the removal of BLM manager Doug Furtado who made the call that grazing would not be allowed for at least two years because of drought. The ranchers say the rain has been sufficient and that Furtado is on a personal mission to remove cattle permanently from that BLM land.
Filippini said she was disappointed but not surprised that senators and representatives sent staffers to the ranchers’ rally in their stead. “It’s kind of like status quo. But this isn’t going to stop here, we are all fighting for our life right now and there needs to be an investigation,” she said in reference to Furtado’s actions.
“When we met at the capitol, Arlo Crutcher (another rancher on the ride) asked why can’t Furtado just sit on the bench for a while and we can sort this out. I thought that would be a good solution,” she said.
Besides the Furtado petition, the riders offered to deliver any petitions they received along the route to DC.
Gerber emphasized that their goal is not narrow-minded. In addition to the temporary or permanent ousting of Furtado from his BLM position, the riders delivered a message to lawmakers that situations across the country abound where government overreach is taking away citizens’ rights.
“One of the most significant things is the petitions we delivered on behalf of so many parts of the country,” Gerber said. Petitions from Klamath County, Oregon, Humbolt and Elko Counties in Nevada, Tooele and Washington Counties in Utah, a letter from Northern Shoshone tribal members urging additional grazing for the health of the rangeland, information from western Kansas demonstrating the abundance of the lesser prairie chicken, and more were given to congressional staff on Thursday.
An Anti Grass Cowboy March page on Facebook was devoted to organizing a rally. Gerber said they didn’t see any evidence of an oppositional rally but the group’s Facebook page showed photos and comments from eight demonstrators who posted that they arrived after the Grass March riders had left.
A statement on their Facebook page said, “The Grass March is about one thing, livestock producers want to control your public land. It was started to get the BLM district manager fired because he told them “get the cows off!” Now they are riding to DC asking Congress to fire him! They also want control of public land given to states, ravens off the migratory treaty and sage grouse to not be listed. What they want from the wild horses? Everything… they want them removed and sent to auction (slaughter). We want to make sure no Mustangs go to slaughter. We want the livestock to stop damaging our public lands that were granted to the Mustangs and the wildlife. We want BLM to “do their jobs” just like the ONE manager that is actually doing the right thing. If you can support our cause then please join us.. The more. The merrier!”
Gerber and Filippini realize that immediate action of any kind is not likely but they are hoping that their ride will be the start of something bigger. He said often individuals and groups work on one issue at a time, which becomes labor intensive. He’s hoping to encourage county organizations, citizens, cattle groups, and others to work with their federal lawmakers on multiple issues at the same time.
“Elko County commissioners shared a list of seven or eight grievances against the government. That is new. Instead of making a resolution, it is a series of concerns.” Other counties followed suit, Gerber said. “We think this will be a sweep of new things. We think it is something new that hasn’t occurred before. You think about all of these issues, sage grouse, water control, we are encouraging counties to put those lists together and then we gather them all up and work on these related issues all at one time.”
Filippini, whose family stayed home to tend to the ranch, said she was operating on about three hours of sleep per night. The group found boarding for their horses and wearily dropped into bed at a hotel 30 miles outside of DC Thursday night. But being tired and sore was worth it.
“It didn’t matter where we went, everyone had a story. In Iowa, someone with fifty cows was being charged a methane tax. Why aren’t we on the same wagon here? Join up, get on board!”
The Filippinis, along with five other cattle-raising families, who have ranched for several generations in the high desert country, were instructed by the BLM early this spring that they would not be able to use federal grazing rights until, at the earliest, 2016.
The Filippinis have already sold a third of their mother cows and are struggling to find grazing for the remainder of their herd. “If something isn’t resolved by March of 2015 we’ll probably be forced to sell all of our cattle. We’ll be forced out of the ranching business,” Filippini said.
The Filippinis and other ranchers who have historically grazed the Battle Mountain area own more than half of the land and all of the water rights in the summer grazing range at issue. Because of the checkerboard nature of the federal/private mingled land, there aren’t fences to distinguish one from another, so when the federal grassland is closed to grazing, so is their private land.
“It makes a pretty big lump in the pit of your stomach,” Filippini said she worries that her sons won’t have the chance to raise their families on the ranch. “We’ve been ranching here for five generations. We wouldn’t still be here if we trashed our resources. One man has jeopardized our whole heritage. I want the America back that my forefathers fought and died for. I have nothing to fear anymore and neither does my family. I’ll die fighting to get my America back.
“I guess I’ve become an activist.”
Click here to see TSLN’s first Grass March story.
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’s role in public land management such as the Hammond Fire Trial and the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Click here to read more.