CARLIN — Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber saddled up his horse before sunrise on Memorial Day and set out on a 70-mile trek across northern Nevada to protest livestock grazing reductions on federal land.
Gerber and his son left from the county courthouse and traveled about 20 miles across grasslands into Carlin, where they were greeted by local Mayor Cliff Eklund and a parade and rodeo he planned in support of the riders. Their destination is Carson City by week’s end to present a petition to Gov. Brian Sandoval urging the removal of Doug Furtado as head of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Battle Mountain District.
“We’re going to keep going until the public insists that the BLM does the right thing,” said Gerber, 72.
The multiday ride is modeled after the “Salt March” led by the Indian independence leader, Gandhi, that protested the British colonial monopoly on salt in 1930. Gerber said the Salt March was the opening salvo in a series of non-violent acts of civil disobedience that garnered international sympathy and ultimately helped lead to the country’s independence.
Gerber calls his version the “Grass March.” Gerber, a lawyer who has represented dozens of plaintiffs in lawsuits against the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management over the past two decades, said federal agencies have the same stranglehold on Nevada land and grass as the British had on Indian salt supplies.
Federal land managers have said grazing throughout most of Nevada is unsustainable at permitted levels, and they’re further challenged by lingering drought, overpopulation of wild horse herds and the potential listing of the sage grouse as an endangered species.
BLM spokeswoman Lesli Ellis-Wouters said Monday that some permit holders voluntarily have decided against grazing the total number of cows they are allowed, resulting in 436,000 fewer of the animals on public land. She said no decision has been made regarding the Gerber family allotment.
“We do understand it is their livelihood, but we have to be responsible for the land,” she said. “We have to protect the land for its use today and its use tomorrow.”
Gerber’s ride is the latest in a series of demonstrations since the federal government’s run-in with southern Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, about 75 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Bundy and his supporters, some of them armed militia members, thwarted a BLM roundup of his cattle near Bunkerville in April.
Gerber said his primary tool is the First Amendment, having camped out in front of BLM offices and roadside, and organizing a sort of Pony Express to deliver signatures on petitions he’s gathered along the way to Carson City.
Eklund, the Carlin mayor, said the city didn’t take a stance on Gerber’s ride but he personally supported his efforts.
“The ranchers are a big part of the economy in this part of the country,” Eklund said. “Most of the ranchers support our communities, and it’s about time we return the favor.”