Sagebrush Rebellion II
by Steve Miller
copyright © 1996, Electric Nevada
|That August in 1992 the fire in Ruby Valley had swept across the rangeland and right up to their home before coming under control at the last minute.|
| So two years later, when Cliff
and Bertha Gardner saw the land around their Dawley Creek
Ranch again growing dangerously heavy with range-fire
fuel, they decided they had to do something different.
They believed that the '92 fire there in Elko County had been as large as it was for two reasons:
1) Exceptional rain and snow the previous winter had produced a bumper crop of range forage that spring.
2) U.S. Forest Service officials, believing that the range had needed a year of rest, had designated it exempt from grazing for that year.
The combination had been disastrous: acres of heavy forage, ungrazed, had sat there until tinder-dry, says Reno attorney Glade Hall, adding that when the summer lightning storms came, as they always do, the land burst immediately into flame. Hundreds of thousands of state and federal taxpayer dollars were spent fighting the fire, which burned over 2,000 acres.
But U.S. Forest Service officials apparently didn't acknowledge they had done anything wrong. So they simply reseeded the burned area and informed the Gardners that now the land would need two years with no grazing.
In 1993, the Gardners went along. But in April and early May of 1994, a series of rain and snow storms again created superb growing conditions for high desert vegetation and the fields above the Gardner's ranch house again saw an abundant burst of plant growth.
"The Gardners knew from experience," says a brief filed by Hall with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, "that if such forage were left unharvested it would create an even greater risk of serious fire.
"The Garners requested that someone from the Forest Service investigate these condition and that they be allowed to graze the areas adjacent to their home and outbuildings," writes Hall.
But the federal forest service officials did not seem concerned.
What was most important to them, Hall told Electric Nevada, was the bureaucracy's official federal plan for the Humboldt National Forest. And in the plan there was a rule, he says, that "if there's a fire you should let the land rest for two years."
So the Forest Service didn't bother to go out and look at the heavy forage fuel load. Gardner's request that someone investigate was simply denied.
It was the same with Gardner's request for temporary permission to let cattle on the forage-heavy range so it could be grazed down to safe levels.
Though federal regulations do allow Forest Service personnel to issue "temporary grazing permits ... to use forage created by unusually favorable weather conditions," the Forest Service denied that request by Gardner also.
"They just sat in their office and said 'no,'" Hall told Electric Nevada.
What Cliff Gardner then said was, 'It's my family and my home.'"
And with the fields above the ranch house again bursting with ungrazed forage -- vegetation sure to become a fire hazard as it dried over the coming hot summer months, says attorney Hall - Cliff Gardner and his wife Bertha sent a letter May 13, 1994, notifying the Forest Service they were going to put the cattle out on the range anyway, and graze it down to safe levels.
Events moved swiftly after that. On May 18, 1994, the Forest Service came out and
officially "observed" Gardner's
cattle on the forbidden area. A day or so later a
hand-delivered agency letter notified Gardner he had
until May 22 to removed the cattle. On June 9th the
Forest Service cancelled his grazing permit and told him
he could appeal that decision.
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