About 30 people were on hand at City Hall in Caliente June 25 for a meeting with local Bureau of Land Management personnel talking about issues

BLM Caliente Field Office Manager Victoria Barr conducts an open house meeting at the Caliente City Hall June 25. Topics discussed included water for cattle, wildfire control and overpopulation of wild horses. (Dave Maxwell photo)

About 30 people were on hand at City Hall in Caliente June 25 for a meeting with local Bureau of Land Management personnel talking about issues relating the current drought in western states, including Nevada, and some of the problems it is creating.

Victoria Barr, Caliente Field Office Manager, was on hand to answer a variety of questions directed to her and her staff.   

Also in attendance were state Senator Pete Goicoechea of Eureka, who represents  Lincoln County, state Assemblyman and current GOP candidate for Congress, Cresent Hardy of Mesquite. Vin Spotleson represented Sen. Harry Reid’s Las Vegas office.

At the beginning, several questions were directed to Barr about land disposal plans BLM is making for this year.   

Barr said they are working on several parcels in the Pahranagat Valley area for sale this fall.

However, Barr did say this would not include Little Ash Springs, which is still in BLM hands while the situation is being considered. In June, BLM closed Little Ash for two years, while they work with a local interest group to seek ways to release the area into private ownership.

She said Little Ash Springs is not identified for disposal in the current Resource Management Plan. “If we make it available for disposal, we’ll need to amend the land use plan and that would be through a public process.”

Goicoechea, who had a number of concerns to express in the early part of the meeting, talked at one point of the slowness of BLM making the land disposals, up to 90,000 acres which had been set up in 2004, but have not happened. The 2008 Resource Management Plan identified 50,000 of those acres, but only a few thousand have been disposed up to this point. The RMP is available on the BLM website, Barr said, if people would like to look at the map.

“There’s got to be a vehicle to speed up the process,” Goicoechea said. “The bill was passed, it is now law, I don’t understand why Lincoln County is not able to enhance its tax base with new land purchases.”

One unidentified BLM employee said they do have a process to follow and “due to the regulations we have to follow, it’s a little complicated.”

Barr said a request competitive bid for a parcel of land in the disposal area would need to go through the County Commission first and then on to the BLM and the process they require.

Commissioner Kevin Phillips said he also has a struggle with understanding how slow the process is.

Another BLM employee said what they would like to have is more input from the general public to help deal with the problems faced regarding water, wildfires, excess horses, etc. “As the public asks for more flexibility in dealing with these issues, there are things we will miss if we don’t have public input,” he said. One person from the audience said, the public is “often guilty of not involving themselves in the process, sometimes because it is so time consuming and the documents are way too long to read.”

The same person said they were quite tired of hearing the BLM say, “We can’t do that,” and felt that’s the message BLM seems to be putting forth to the public way too often, and is not the way to deal effectively with natural resource problems.

Barr said they are seeking public input for solutions “within the framework of the law and the parameters we have to follow.”  Some people offered solutions for consideration, Barr said, “and we want to hear them.”

The on-going drought in the state that affects many aspects of rural grazing and farming is once again presenting a serious problem for hauling water onto the range for cattle.

Because of BLM restrictions going on roads to bring water into some of the rural areas, Goicoechea said a relaxing of the regulations needs to happen.

He said the problem is more pronounced in the north end of Lincoln County than it is in the southern part.

Barr responded by saying that operators are allowed to request emergency and beginning within 24 hours, water hauls to better distribute their cattle.

Goicoechea added also, “The problem we are having with hauling water is road conditions. As you go further north in the state, BLM is doing very little road maintenance. As a permittee, we can’t go out there and smooth those roads out even if they have been washed out.”

Barr responded by saying BLM does have a very effective road maintenance agreement in place with Lincoln County and suggested that could be used as a model for other counties. 

Ty Chamberlain of the BLM said a road agreement with a given “would really make road improvement a good vehicle.” 

She also said that, if there was not a road maintenance agreement, BLM would be willing to work with each permittee about how the issues could be resolved and what the permittee could do so water could be hauled on their range land.”

Hardy asked, if BLM does not have the equipment or manpower to do road maintenance when needed, “Why is it so difficult for the private sector to step in and do it on their own?

Barr said it the few instances she could think of, the roads that had been used by a private party, were not put back into good condition in a specified amount of time, which was a condition of granting a use permit. “So, we just are going to issue them a permit again, until the repair work is completed.”

And she said the road agreement with the Lincoln has worked very well, “and we have not had any type kind of conflict with the road department. We meet quarterly and follow a set agenda and ask are there any areas the county wants us (BLM) to maintain?”

Goicoechea said often times a large truck is needed to go on the BLM roads to haul the water and that may disturb the road more than the BLM would like. “If you have a four-wheeler you can go, but it’s difficult to haul water with a four-wheeler.”

He also thought the drought conditions this year are primed for a serious wildlife season, and hauling water on public land will be of tantamount importance.

In Lincoln County, it’s not quite as bad as other places, Goicoechea explained. “On SR 318 from Hiko up, you almost have to go as far as Sunnyside before you begin to see things greening up. Down the White River, it really didn’t green up this year, not having the spring rains that did fall in the northern parts.” Driving through Lincoln County, he said he could see there were places where the land was very dry.

Philips said the issue was the permittee being able to respond quickly to fix the road to be able to haul the water in.

Barr said the BLM does allow for some emergency situations, and gave an example of at least one instance.

Goicoechea expressed the frustration he has heard from some people who have done something to fix the roads on their allotments and gotten into trouble with the BLM for doing it. “If I go in on my own, and patch a road up,” he said, “I’m in big trouble.”

It was mentioned by one of the BLM employees at the meeting, a private person is not trained on how to fix the road to BLM specifications, and may do it incorrectly.

And again, Barr said the BLM is willing to work with the permittee “to help them get better access when feasible to their water haul sites.”

Another issue of major concerns in rural eastern Nevada is the excessive number of unmarked horses that roam BLM lands and, as Phillips said, “are stealing the water and feed that belongs to someone else.”

BLM, he said, even admits they do not have up-to-date numbers on how many wild horses are in a given area.

Another person pointed out that the wild horses are so accustomed to being tracked by helicopter, whenever one shows up again over the range, they just go hide in the trees.

What is needed, Phillips thinks, is less regulations related to the excess horses, there are too many right now.

Barr again asked for public input on the wild horse issue. “We’re racking our heads against a wall right now on how to solve it.”

Even as some call for a drastic reduction in the number, and call for the federal government to follow its own laws, as in the 1971 Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act, others continue to petition Congress for placing the Mustang under protection of the  Endangered Species Act, like the grizzly bear, desert tortoise and humpback whale.

Goicoechea said it was a first start, “and hopefully we’ll have a larger turnout at the next one, so I think it’s worth attending.”

Time and place for another meeting will be announced later.