FALLON, Nev. (AP) - About 50 ranchers and states' rights activists picketed a livestock auction yard Tuesday, protesting the federal government's seizure of cattle from two ranchers accused of trespassing on public lands.
''As far as I am concerned, the government is stealing their cattle,'' said Varlin Higbee, a fifth-generation rancher who traveled nearly 300 miles to join the protest.
Last week, the Bureau of Land Management confiscated nearly 200 cattle from Ben Colvin and Jack Vogt in south-central Nevada in a dispute that dates to 1995.
Bureau officials said confiscation was their last resort after years of negotiations failed to persuade the ranchers to remove their cattle. Agency scientists say the cattle are damaging the range.
The bureau intends to auction the cattle perhaps as early as next week if Colvin refuses to pay $70,000 in grazing fees and trespassing fines for 62 cattle. The agency says Vogt owes $300,000 for about 130 cattle.
''I could get the money,'' Colvin said. ''But that is completely ridiculous. I don't owe them anything ... I'm not hurting anyone.''
The Nevada Committee for Full Statehood helped organize the protest in Fallon, the town 60 miles east of Reno where the cattle are being held. The committee does not recognize the bureau's authority on Nevada public lands, chairman O.Q. Chris Johnson said. The group's name reflects its members' belief that the federal government is denying Nevada its full rights as a state.
Men, women and children waved Nevada flags and carried signs reading, ''Ranchers Are an Endangered Species'' and ''Rustling Is Still a Capital Offense.''
''Nevada's property rights are being destroyed,'' said Janine Hansen, a committee organizer. ''The federal government has usurped control of the lands in the West.''
Bob Abbey, the Bureau of Land Management's state director, said nearly all the 680 Nevada ranchers with federal permits heed government rules while grazing their cattle. Neither Colvin nor Vogt has a permit.
''The majority of people... recognize other values of the public lands - wildlife habitat, wild horses and burros, clean water and air,'' Abbey said. ''All the trespassers see is the opportunity to graze their livestock without having to pay the fees.''
Bureau of Land Management Nevada state office: http://www.nv.blm.gov/