Driving the Ranchers Off the Land, Part 6 of 6

(NOTE: a condensed version of this report appears in the Autumn, 2014 issue of “Range” magazine, on newsstands through Oct. 15.)


The federals contend they’re doing all this to “protect the threatened desert tortoise,” though I’ve documented again and again over the years (citing such experts as Vern Bostick) that government wildlife experts admit the desert tortoise is “at saturation levels” in the wild, and that all evidence demonstrates the tortoises do better when cattle are on the land, with the ranchers putting in drips and tanks and maintaining the water features.

In fact, the federally mandated Kern River Pipeline study found more tortoises on grazed land than ungrazed, but found the very highest concentration of the supposedly ”threatened” desert tortoise near urban back yards and golf courses. So saying we need to get ranchers and cattle off the land to “protect” the tortoise is like saying we need to level all the man-made buildings on Manhattan Island to “protect the threatened” pigeon, which in fact is eternally grateful to mankind for erecting all those wonderful window ledges.

In a May 14, 2008, editorial in the daily Las Vegas Review-Journal I cited a portion of Vern Bostick’s study, “The Desert Tortoise in Relation to Cattle Grazing,” published in “Rangelands” in June, 1990.

This brought a letter from a newly arrived “expert” on the extent to which desert tortoises are allergic to having large ungulate grazers sharing their range, arguing that desert tortoises won’t use cow droppings to get nourishment or moisture no matter how desperate their straits, and that “All leading tortoise scientists agree that cattle grazing and tortoises don’t mix.”

Actually, cattle’s presence on the land benefits tortoises in many ways. Cattle mean ranchers, and ranchers make some effort to reduce the populations of coyotes and ravens, which are the tortoises’ main predators. Ranchers also clear out springs and pipe water to remote tanks, so both the ranchers themselves and their wandering cattle bring water to areas where deer, and doves, and quail — and especially tortoises, who can’t travel as far in a day as any of those species — would otherwise find none.

Finally, cattle graze down brush, reducing the severity of range fires and causing tender new shoots to grow in closer to ground level, where tortoises can more easily reach them.

Meantime, Vernon Bostick — whose credibility has been considered very high indeed among the people-off-the-land gang when he’s saying things they like to hear, as when he confirmed the presence of “protectable” Big Horn sheep in the mountains south of Boulder Dam, years ago — telephoned me in mid-June, 2008, to discuss the matter.

“They claim cow dung is ‘nutritionally deficient,’ Vernon laughs. “It’s high in nitrogen and that’s USDA Bulletin No. 49. Cows absorb 20 percent, pass 80 percent of the nutrients through their system. And they graze stuff too tough for tortoises to masticate. . . .

“Each cow makes 12 deposits a day and it’s 90 percent water,” Vern explains. “Remove the cattle and the tortoises are dependent on rainfall; they have to hold their urine . . . which can result in illness and, eventually, death.”

I asked Mr. Bostick if he’d follow up by sending me a lengthier letter I could publish in the Review-Journal. He did.

“The tortoise fraternity will (try to) discredit what I write because I am not a herpetologist. Deciding if Nevada tortoises should be named as a distinct subspecies is herpetology. Managing animals on the range, wild and domestic, is range management. I am not encroaching on their field; they are encroaching on mine. And they are awfully short on clues. . . .

“Rob Mrowka in (his) letter to the editor opened his rebuttal of my 1987 report . . . with this statement: ‘All leading tortoise scientists agree that cattle grazing and tortoises don’t mix.’ whatever that means. . . .

“Before I offer my rebuttal of the above nonsense allow me to qualify myself as an expert witness. . . .”

Vern has an MS in biology from UNLV and a BS in range management from Colorado State. He wrote the text for a course in judging range condition and trend (whether the range is improving or deteriorating) taken by all U.S. Forest Service personnel working in Arizona and New Mexico.

“I will call History as my first rebuttal witness,” Vern writes. “Before there were any cattle grazing on the western range the desert tortoise was extremely rare. The first Spanish explorers found roasted shells at old Indian camps but never saw a live tortoise. They concluded that this unique reptile was extinct. . . . Spanish colonists brought cattle with them. Cattle and tortoise have shared the same range for more than three centuries in some places and for more than a century everywhere. . . .

“The following quotation is from Kristin Berry’s ‘Tortoises for Tomorrow’:

“‘Long-time desert residents in California notes extraordinary densities’ (in the early thirties . . . when cattle numbers peaked) ‘that could have been as high as 2,000 per square mile.’

“A member of the survey party in Antelope Valley in 1933 saw over 100 tortoises in one place at one time. He told Kristin Berry that tortoises ‘were everywhere . . . all over the ground’ (and so were cow pies.)

“From the early thirties to the mid eighties the number of cows grazing on federal range was reduced about 90 percent. . . . From the early thirties to the mid eighties tortoise densities declined from 2,000 per square mile to 65, i.e. 97 percent (Medica, oral communication) in response to reduced cattle grazing. Kristin Berry used this drastic reduction in tortoise population to get the desert tortoise listed as an endangered species. Then she used this listing to ‘get rid of the cows.’ Mission accomplished,” Bostick wrote.

“History reveals a positive correlation between cattle and tortoise populations: the more cows on the range, the more tortoises, and with fewer cows there will be fewer tortoises. There is ample evidence that this correlation is a cause and effect relation.

“My 1987 report reviews all cases where cattle grazing was eliminated and tortoises had exclusive use of the range. . . . In every case elimination of cattle grazing resulted in a smaller tortoise population,” Bostic reported.

“The most complete data is from the Beaver Dam Mountains. Woodbury and Hardy reported a tortoise population density of 150 per square mile in 1948. BLM reduced cattle grazing a few years later and eliminated cattle in 1970. Coombs reported a tortoise density of 39 per square mile in 1974. In these 26 years cattle use was reduced 100 percent and tortoise numbers were reduced 74 percent.

“These tortoises were doing so poorly a veterinarian, Dr. Jarchow, was consulted. He reported all six specimens were suffering from osteoporosis caused by a protein deficiency in their diet. Dr. Jarchow examined five specimens from the same mountains that shared their range with cattle. He reported these specimens were all healthy and well nourished.

“The historical record proves conclusively that tortoise thrive when cattle are on the range with them and without cattle grazing they are always malnourished and unhealthy and their numbers plummet.

“The tortoise recovery program is based on a popular but false premise that the desert tortoise is endangered because of competition with cattle for forage,” Vern Bostick concluded. “The recovery team has had a lot of time and they have spent a lot of money. I think we should have an accounting. How many tortoise populations have they recovered and to what extent? Have any tortoise populations decreased since their program began? All new” (Southern Nevada) “home-buyers pay $500 into the recovery program. I believe they have a right to know what they are getting for their five hundred bucks.”

Sounds reasonable to me.


Back in the 1990s, native Las Vegan Harry Pappas was appointed to the Bureau of Land Management Citizen Advisory Council by then-Congresswoman Barbara Vucanovich. He later represented the State Rifle & Pistol Association on the Clark County Tortoise Advisory Council.

“They said the (desert) tortoise was threatened, so they had to fence off these huge areas and shut out all the cattle, which means no one is out there shooting the coyotes and the raven or trapping the lions any more, so of course that wrecked the hunting,” Mr. Pappas recalled, back in 2001. “They said anyone who found a tortoise had to turn it in” to Clark County authorities.

“So what happened? They got so overrun with tortoises being turned in that they told us they were going to have to start euthanizing them. I said ‘Hold on a minute, here. Euthanize them? Why don’t you just drop them out in the desert?’ They said ‘Oh no, they’ll fight with the native tortoises that already live out there and they’ll kill each other, because all these lands are already at saturation levels.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute, now: Which is it? How can they be ‘threatened,’ or ‘endangered’ . . . but now you tell us all these lands are at ‘saturation levels’ for tortoises?”

Mr. Pappas recalled a wildlife biologist from California who, more than a decade ago, spoke before the BLM’s Citizen Advisory Council, bringing in “two huge plastic garbage bags full of baby tortoise shells — there had to be hundreds of them, probably thousands. Every one of these shells had a hole pecked through the top where the ravens had carried them off and pecked through the shell and eaten the baby tortoise right out of the shell, and he said they picked these up in middens around the raven nests, just thousands of them.”

Cattle weren’t the problem, Harry has always insisted. In fact, cattlemen formerly reduced the populations of predators including the coyote and the raven, which benefited tortoise populations.

“But now they say the way to protect the tortoise is to fence off the land and not let the ranchers and the hunters in, when the biggest tortoise populations we ever had were in the ’50s and ’60s, when you had plenty of ranching, and plenty of hunting, and plenty of predator control,” Harry insists.

When blame started to be placed on the cattle, Harry asked that the California wildlife biologist with his plastic bags full of baby tortoise shells be brought back. “They said they didn’t have the slightest idea who I was talking about, they claimed they’d never heard of him.”

Southern Nevadans who find desert tortoises wandering around are now supposed to turn them in, because they’re threatened. How many do you suppose have been turned in? Think of other endangered species, like the California condor, where word that a dozen are now breeding is cause for celebration.

Has the tax-funded shelter collected 50 desert tortoises? A hundred?

Try 10,000. Yes, ten thousand. A few years back, they got so crowded they stopped accepting any new ones. In fact, they’re so overloaded they’re now threatening to close the shelter, entirely. Officials admit they’ve already euthanized, “put down,” killed any that developed respiratory infections — at least 200 so far. Will they now euthanize all the rest?

As a matter of fact, what do you suppose is the “tortoise protection” officials’ biggest current concern?

Marci Henson, of Clark County’s Desert Conservation Program, told me “Unlimited breeding of an endangered species in captivity is something the community has to look into.”

“To stop it?” I asked.

“Yes,” Ms. Henson confirmed.

You see, in trying to “recover” the species, animals in shelters or kept as pets in people’s back yards “don’t count,” so they’re just a problem.

This is like saying the common housecat is an endangered species, because even though millions of them live in our homes, those “don’t count” –- all that matters is there aren’t “enough” of them (a number never to be defined) left in the Egyptian desert from which they originally came.


U.S. Sen Harry Reid, who actually lives in a fancy hotel in Washington City and wears tailored gray suits most of the time, returns to Nevada every six years to don a pair of blue jeans and get his picture taken sitting on a hay bale and fondling the .22 rifle with which he recalls once shooting rabbits as a kid. He consistently wins re-election in close races by carrying only two of Nevada’s 17 counties -– Mineral County in the north, which is depressed but still heavily dependent on federal funding for its military ammo dump, and massive and increasingly Democratic Clark County, home of Las Vegas.

Harry Reid is a fragile and elderly politician who has had several supposedly “mini” strokes and who often mis-speaks, or says things so odd that — if they emerged from the mouth of a public figure on the political right — would be mercilessly ridiculed by the leftist commentariat, as well as prompting suggestions that retirement might be in order.

Following the collapse of the BLM’s armed assault -– complete with men in full combat regalia with leveled combat rifles who observers with military expertise called “the Homeland Security Army” -– surely any savvy politicians would have publicly regretted things going so far, calling for new efforts to resolve things peacefully . . . however they may have felt in private.

Not Harry Reid. When the latest BLM effort to round up Bundy’s cattle or prompt a shoot-out backfired and had to be called off, Sen. Reid made it personal, branding Bundy’s non-violent supporters as “domestic terrorists” and vowing “It’s not over.”

He went further. A few days later Sen. Reid, sounding like a cheap gangster, predicted “something would happen” to Cliven Bundy.

Why? Why would the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate want so badly to get rid of Cliven Bundy’s little herd of cows? If nothing else, the Bundys have lots of Nevada relatives who are, after all, Sen. Reid’s constituents.

Well, the federal judge who in 2001 stunningly ruled that the federal government “owns” 86 percent of Nevada, Johnnie Rawlinson, was nominated for that post by Harry Reid. Rawlinson is black; it’s hard to deny her appointment was made in part to firm up Sen. Reid’s support among black voters. And the boss of the BLM, who doubtless OKd the big Bundy raid, was a chief Reid staffer from 2003 to 2011. So it would indeed have been difficult for the senator to shrug and say “All I know is what I read in the papers.”

But there’s more going on, here.

Former Review-Journal editor Tom Mitchell wrote on his 4thST8 blog on April 11, 2014::

“For some reason a web page the BLM had once posted listing its reasons for the confiscation of Cliven Bundy’s cattle in the Gold Butte area has been taken down, but a cache of the page is still extant.

“One of the more unusual aspects of the page comes under the heading of ‘Examples of Restoration Funding and Viability Impacted’:

“‘Non-Governmental Organizations have expressed concern that the regional mitigation strategy for the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone utilizes Gold Butte as the location for offsite mitigation for impacts from solar development, and that those restoration activities are not durable with the presence of trespass cattle.’

“I have no idea what any of that means in English,” Mitchell wrote, though of course he does. It means the federals have already accepted the planned “Gold Butte Conservation Area” -– the fenced-off Bundy ranch without its cattle -– as an acceptable replacement for the acres of supposed “tortoise habitat” that would be destroyed by the big Red Chinese solar plant planned for the Dry Lake bed down near Laughlin -– a plant which could not be built without the Red Chinese somehow making Harry Reid their friend, since it would also require both federal subsidies and a Nevada state legislative requirement that local monopoly utility companies buy a certain percentage of their power from high-priced solar sources, even though this drives up local power bills.

“So, cattle bad. Solar panels good,” Mitchell notes. “Harry Reid likes solar panels.”

Another long-term Reid donor and supporter, Harvey Whittemore, didn’t have much trouble getting an exemption from tortoise protection rules when he wanted to put a big residential development at Coyote Springs, in the empty desert northwest of the Bundy grazing allotment.

Whittemore was later convicted of making illegal campaign contributions to Sen. Harry Reid, though of course no culpability for accepting the donations in any kind of “quid pro quo” arrangement was ever assigned to “Mr. Cleanface.” The Coyote Springs development appears to have died on the vine with the big housing market collapse of 2008.

Who’s the lawyer who appears to be doing pretty well promoting that Dry Lake Solar Zone, which has had a fantastic run of luck in seeking exemptions or “mitigation” approval for the tortoise habitat its solar panels will supposedly destroy? Um . . . that would be Harry Reid’s son, Rory Reid.

Unfortunately for the Reid Machine, it appears the senator’s good friend, Red Chinese energy billionaire and solar tycoon Yusuo Wang, pulled the plug on the big Laughlin solar farm about a year ago, in the summer of 2013. Even Sen. Reid’s arm twisting had not proved sufficient to win commitments from monopoly California and Nevada energy providers to buy hundreds of megawatts of high-priced Chinese solar power.

There’s no room here to do more than scratch the surface of the Reid machine. For more, see: http://patriotpost.us/opinion/25014


“There’s a philosophy of life that I have,” says Cliven Bundy, blue eyes sparkling beneath his Navajo silver hatband. “All these resources — the brush, the game — are put here for man’s use. If you don’t get any use out of it, what use is it? They say they want to protect the ecosystem, but man has to be part of the ecosystem. If man manages the predators so they only eat half the quail, and half are left for man, think of all the Dutch oven meals that makes. Everything here on the earth is made for man. This land would be better off if you let people use it and work it and improve it.”

In the snide phrases of the coffeehouse environmentalist, these families that have worked from dawn to dusk for 130 years — no “calling in sick” when it’s 30 below or 115 in the shade — are “welfare ranchers,” taking advantage of the rest of us by leasing federally-controlled scrubland for “less than market rates” … as though anyone else is chafing at the bit to pay good money to use this God-forsaken scrub, risking their savings against the bank, the sheriff, and the bankruptcy court.

Mark my words: Within 30 years, unless a whole lot more Americans decide this is their battle, not just that of one old rancher who “won’t pay his fees” — the range cattle will be gone, just as the BLM plans and plots, and Americans will finally grow sick of eating nothing but hormone- and antibiotic-laced feedlot meat. At that point, there will be a popular movement to bring back cattle ranching in the West — a rich culture and proud way of life and a source of healthier, more nutritious, locally produced organic food, a culture willfully and spitefully destroyed during our current era, with all the ironies of our supposed celebration of “multiculturalism.”

Problem is, no one will remember how to do it. And — the generational links broken with the forced retirements of old-timers like Wayne Hage and Cliff Gardner and Cliven Bundy — there will be no one left to show us how.

Some say the wealth of America lies in her coal mines and her forests, her wheat fields and her factories. But they are wrong.

I have seen the wealth of America. It lies in the hearts of Cliff Gardner and Cliven Bundy. It lies in the spunk with which they will continue to fight their hopeless fight for as long as they draw breath. It lives in their naive faith that some judge, somewhere, will hear them out, answer their questions, acknowledge the limits of his jurisdiction, search his conscience, see justice done.

The funny thing about their kind of faith and strength is that you cannot steal these things away. You cannot load them up in a trailer and alter their brands and claim them for your own.

Instead, when they have finished driving the Cliff and Bertha Gardners, the Cliven and Carol Bundys off this land, they will find the America they claim to be “protecting” … is gone.

(END PART SIX OF SIX: “Driving the Ranchers Off the Land,” by Vin Suprynowicz

2 Comments to “Driving the Ranchers Off the Land, Part 6 of 6”

  1. John Taylor Says:

    A superb series, Vin. I see on the horizon another book for my collection. (And an extra thank you for tipping me off to Range magazine. What a breath of fresh air to this Southern right-coaster.)

  2. M.C. Ridge Says:

    Vin, great article. Gave me a much better insight. Can you group the articles (Parts 1-6) and send the URL’s to Mike Vanderboegh at Sispsey Street Irregulars so he can give them to regular readers of his website. I’m sure you are aware of Mike’s involvement in the standoff at the Bundy ranch and I believe that his regular readers would like to read you articles.