Not just dead horses & dog meat
A Day in 'Cowboy' Politics

By Tim Findley
The Courier (Hatch, N.M.)

Notwithstanding uncontrollable population growth, there's still something "West" about Nevada politics.
The newer people living in the seams-busted developments around Las Vegas and Reno may not quite get it, but they can't really be expected to catch on right away -- especially when the daily press in the cities postures as too sophisticated to take seriously Nevada's old "cowboy" politics.
Particularly in Reno, if you read it from that version, you might come to the conclusion that the recent meeting of the State Legislative Committee on Public Lands was a sort of throwback, a mistaken public identity.
"Three dead horses and dog meat" was the way the Reno Gazette-Journal tried to portray the hearing. But even that might have been close enough, if only the newer Western urbanites had been given a chance to sample some of the meeting's texture.
There was, after all, the Channel 8 TV-star-cum-Virginia-City-range-manager who "cowpokes," among his other sidelines. There was the pretty blonde ex-New Yorker, who admits she knew nothing much at all about horses before taking charge of 40,000 wild ones in the state. There was the Elko State Senator nodding incongruously at the bald-headed Time-magazine-cover cowboy in the front row. There was the boots-and-blue-jeans



line at the back of the room. And there were the federal bureaucrats bustling in and out, as though from personal offices where coffee was brewing, elsewhere in Nevada's historic old state capitol building.
The characters alone would be worth a yarn in any disbelieving Eastern journal, never mind the matter of the "three dead horses and dog meat."
But, almost as if they embarrassed by boondock relatives, the daily press ignored most of that to report only that the legislative panel recommended that wild horses should be "controlled and removed" instead of just protected.
What a story they keep missing.
Even without the weepy-eyed matrons producing a patina of pathos over the horses, there were all those other matters -- the mad moose of Ruby Valley, the snippy attitude of the State's own public lands manager, dust in the Grand Canyon, barrels around old mines, and the declared intent of the BLM to do what it pleases with land exchanges whether the locals like it or not.
All that on the agenda, in the


 
outgrown state assembly chambers, even before dead horses ---- and, in the back of the room, both Grace Bukowski and Ed Presley, lurking like cruiser weights waiting for an unscheduled opportunity after the main event.
It's true that, by the numbers, Nevada has become the second most urbanized state in the Union, second only to New Jersey. And yet, at the same time, about 87 percent of Nevada is "owned" by a federal government that treats most of the state like a Sherwood Forest, full of bandits out to rob the federal king of his game.
John Balliette, head of the Eureka County Public Lands Committee, who is probably more personally responsible than anyone for getting the horse issue this far, missed the meeting entirely. He was off elk hunting.
"Right now, thanks to cooperative effort of the state and private organizations, we estimate there are 4,500 elk in the state," said the representative of the Nevada Division of Wildlife. Knowing Balliette, it was, by then, probably closer to 4,499.
The real shocker, however, was the admission by the wildlife expert that he had no real explanation for that crazy bull moose in the Rubies.
Moose just aren't know in this driest




of all the desert states, but two guys roaming around east of Elko last October insist that's what they saw -- a bull moose, and a big one, by anybody's standards.
So big, in fact, that they decided to get up closer and take a picture to prove what they saw. That's when the moose attacked the one with the camera and knocked him unconscious.
"He's okay now," the NDOW representative reported, "but he didn't want any publicity getting around on it, so he turned the film over to us. We're, uh, still not sure what it shows."
"A moose," committee chairman Dean Rhoads of Elko County assured him. "It was a moose. I know, I saw one there myself, once."
In the back of the big room with its high ceilings draped by state blue, Ed Presley glared, still chafing, maybe, from the sound drubbing handed him at the polls in November by the multi-term Rhoads.
And what brought Presley all the way across the state, just to lean up against the back ledge of the historic chambers alongside a short row of other pointy-toed guys with their big hats on the table?
"Just observing," he said enigmatically. "Maybe some work for the grand jury." The Elko Grand Jury has been pressing, so far unsuccessfully, to force U.S.


 
Forest Service officials to appear and explain federal policy restricting public lands. The Forest Service ignores the grand jury subpoenas, claiming federal officials don't have to respond to local county demands.
It would be another matter entirely, of course, if the feds took such an attitude toward Rhoads' state legislative committee. But instead the feds were there in numbers, with hustling GS-rated assistants backing them up. And the eye contact between Rhoads and Nye County Commissioner Dick Carver, seated in the front row, said almost as much as they did.
[see EN 's latest report on Carver and Nye County].
Carver, of course, got himself on the cover of Time magazine by plowing open that road in Jefferson Canyon that the Forest Service wanted to close. But that was well over a year ago, and at the committee meeting this time -- when a Forest Service representative explained a whole new attitude of cooperation with county authorities -- Senator Rhoads visibly glanced over at Carver, who nodded his head in confirmation.
Presley, once a close associate of Carver's when things were a little more confrontational, just glared.




To his credit, Rhoads is no pushover for federal okey-dokes. He was one of the early movers in the so-called "Sagebrush Rebellion" in the '70s that laid state claim to public lands hoarded by the feds in Nevada. And even though it was Presley, not Rhoads, who demanded that Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa be fired for calling the "Rebellion" unconstitutional, Rhoads won some vindication in November when state voters approved a ballot question essentially restating the same thing -- that Nevada ought to have more control over its public lands.
"Well, I don't see that it makes much difference at all," said Pamela Wilcox of the Nevada Division of State Lands, in a voice as tight as her silver-haired bun.
"People in Nevada have been saying this for years. It won't make any difference in how we deal with the federal government."
Senator Rhoads wasn't as put off as he might have been by another Del Papa-like denial of voter will from a state administrator. He's always been known as easy-going, no real rebel, satisfied for now by the 60 percent numbers on his side.
And if most of those voters in the state these days reside in the over-paved and


 
under-watered suburbs of Las Vegas and Reno, where the daily papers editorialized against the state proposition, their influence hasn't yet completely overwhelmed the rural influence on the legislature.
There was some wisdom to the will of voters in sending Rhoads back to the state Senate, where he and other northern Nevada legislators still hold enough of an advantage in seniority to control important committees and parliamentary procedures. Las Vegas doesn't run the state government entirely -- yet.
But, as was also evident at the committee meeting, the federal government continues to do its part to assure that some day Vegas will, by sheer strength of numbers alone.
Maybe that's part of what makes Bureau of Land Management official Dan Sellers seem somehow like a cocky mouse when he tells the committee that land exchanges are still the "preferred method" for disposal of federal property.
"There's a public notice of the decision," he responded to Rhoads. "It opens up the possibility for protest, and then the state director [of the BLM]




decides if they protest is valid or if it should be dismissed. The Secretary [of the Interior] approves that."
"And what's the role of the county?" asked assembly-woman Marcia DeBraga. "Can they protest the loss of the tax base?"
"Maybe," said Sellers.
Land exchanges orchestrated by environmental groups in cooperation with eager Las Vegas developers continue to eat up farms and range in northern Nevada in trade for BLM land around Las Vegas. Sellers, bespectacled and biting his words, said some of the land the BLM is trading around Las Vegas is "worth about $100,000 an acre."
In the audience, Churchill County Commissioner Gwen Washburn, who once referred to the federal land dealers as "playground bullies," quietly shook her head. Land deals in her county, still underway, are expected to cost some $3 million in losses to the farm economy, despite a county commission lawsuit attempting to halt the exchanges.

[see remainder of the meeting]


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