RENO -- The Bureau of Land Management conducted an aerial survey Monday over the Nevada ranching operation of two Western Shoshone sisters in an ongoing dispute over grazing and tribal treaty rights.
The survey could lead to another BLM roundup of livestock owned by Mary and Carrie Dann, who have been at odds with the federal agency for decades over use of the land they claim belongs to the Western Shoshone tribe under a 140-year-old treaty.
The federal government says otherwise and argues the horses and cattle are causing damage by overgrazing the land to which other ranchers are entitled.
The agency would not confirm the survey was being done in advance of a government roundup at the Danns' Crescent Valley ranch in rural Eureka County. But the aerial reconnaissance follows increased enforcement in recent months against what the BLM considers illegal trespassing on public lands in Nevada.
"We've been headed down this road since the last gather," said JoLynn Worley, a BLM spokeswoman in Reno.
Neither the Danns nor members of the Western Shoshone Defense Project could be reached for immediate comment.
Since July 2001, the bureau has confiscated and auctioned hundreds of cattle belonging to three non-Indian ranchers in Nevada and one member of the Te-Moak band of the Western Shoshone on similar trespassing charges.
In September, the BLM confiscated 227 cattle owned by the Danns and sold them at auction, though one sympathetic buyer who purchased four bulls later returned them to the sisters.
The week before Christmas, the BLM served the Danns with official notice to remove remaining animals from the range within five days or risk government impoundment of an estimated 250 cattle and 1,000 horses.
The government say the Danns owe nearly $3 million in fees and fines for allowing their livestock to trespass on public lands for the past 30 years.
But the Danns maintain the Ruby Valley Treaty of 1863 gives them title to the land, including the right to graze livestock without intervention by the U.S. government.
Worley said Monday's aerial count would provide an estimate on how many animals are on the land, but who owns the animals wouldn't be determined until they are rounded up.
"We really hope that the Danns will go ahead and gather whatever horses they consider to be theirs," Worley said. "Then we'll go in and gather all the excess animals. We'll be looking to see if there's any cattle out there, too."
The Danns have maintained that not all the animals belong to them and have asked the bureau for proof they are damaging the range.
In a Nov. 29 letter to BLM field manager Helen Hankins, Deborah Schaaf, a lawyer for the Danns, said the sisters were planning to round up and sell horses but that the September cattle seizure hampered those efforts.
"The Danns were forced to bring their remaining livestock in early, filling holding areas which would otherwise have been used to contain the horses," Schaaf wrote. "The Danns are understandably concerned that if those cattle are turned back out, and the horses brought in, the cattle will be forcibly seized and auctioned in a repeat of your earlier action."
The letter added that the Danns "would like nothing more than to see a fair resolution of these issues and to move toward a cooperative relationship with the BLM."
On the Net:
Western Shoshone: http://www.nativeweb.org/pages/legal/shoshone/