BILLINGS, Mont. — A year of upheaval at the U.S. Interior Department has seen dozens of senior staff members reassigned and key leadership positions left unfilled, rules considered burdensome to industry shelved, and a sweeping reorganization proposed for its 70,000 employees.
The evolving status quo at the agency responsible for more than 780,000 square miles (2 million square kilometers) of public lands, mostly in the American West, has led to praise from energy and mining companies and Republicans, who welcomed the departure from perceived heavy-handed regulation under President Barack Obama.
But the changes have drawn increasingly sharp criticism from conservationists, Democrats, and some agency employees. Under President Donald Trump, the critics say, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has curbed outside input into how the land is used and elevated corporate interests above the duty to safeguard treasured sites.
The differing views illustrate longstanding tensions over the role of America’s public lands — an amalgam of pristine wilderness, recreational playgrounds, and abundant energy reserves.
There are two sides to every story.
Four years ago the Bureau of Land Management locked the gate to Little Ash Springs north of Alamo for what was described as a couple of weeks due to a crumbling wall on a manmade pool. It remains closed.
Recently, the Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke told the Las Vegas newspaper, “This is exactly why the federal government needs to clean up our act. I’m not in the business of locking the public out.”
He added, “We need to work with local communities and be better neighbors …”
Speaking of neighbors, Joe and Andrea Barker own the 13-acre tract adjacent to and downstream from the 1-acre BLM-controlled Little Ash Springs. Their property is known as Big Ash Springs and has 50 springs feeding 94-degree water into meandering shallow rivulets that are home to two endangered species — the White River springfish and the Pahranagat roundtail chub found only in the Ash Springs system.
Federal prosecutors next week will seek a nearly 31/2-year sentence for Oregon refuge occupier Ryan Payne, the longest prison term yet for a defendant convicted in the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
They described Payne as a central figure who helped orchestrate the armed occupation of the federal wildlife sanctuary, described by Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Barrow as “one of the most extensive criminal activities in Oregon history.”
Payne repeatedly tried to persuade Harney County ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond not to surrender in January 2016 to complete five-year prison sentences for setting fire to public land. He also pressured Sheriff Dave Ward to intervene to prevent the Hammonds’ return to prison, prosecutors say.
The government submitted to the court a 91-page exhibit of recordings from weekly board meetings of the militia network Payne co-founded, Operation Mutual Defense, held in October, November and December 2015, the months preceding the refuge seizure. The board spoke of potential missions, including targeting radical Islam, intervening in the resettling of refugees in Montana and elsewhere, and attempting to free a federal prisoner by staging a “dynamic entry” into a prison by shielding militiamen within protesters.
The 71-year-old rancher has become the focus of a legal effort by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Spokane, which is asking a federal judge to sanction Riley for “trespass, encroachment, damages” and make him pay the legal costs incurred by forcing Riley to abide by the rules on ground purchased by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers some 53 years ago.
“The government just has too many employees and too much money,” said Riley’s nephew, Chad Lindgren, who works Riley’s River Ranch. “They are not going to back down. They are not going to give in unless we make them give in.”
And, he noted, the yearslong dispute is being funded by taxpayers: “We are basically paying those people to be a pain in our ass.”
Head ’em up, move ’em out.
There has been a lot of talk since the Trump administration has taken over about where to locate the national headquarters of some of the nation’s federal land agencies. One land agency, the Bureau of Land Management, controls 11 percent of the nation’s lands, but 99 percent of that land is in the West.
Fully 85 percent of the land in Nevada is controlled by those federal land agencies, the highest percentage of any state, with 66 percent of the state lying under the purview of the BLM, while the rest of the public land is controlled by agencies such as the Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Reclamation.
“Woody initially hired Special Agent Dan Love sometime in 2005. Even though Love was an inexperienced field agent Woody hand-picked and assigned Love as the lead case agent on the joint undercover investigation (code-named Cerberus Action) conducted by the Bureau of Land Management and the FBI.”
William C. Woody is a long-time employee of the Department of Interior (DOI) and during President Obama’s first term was Director of Law Enforcement for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Woody headed up that division during the execution of Operation Cerberus Action, the 2009 federal sting that led to the deaths of 4 men in the Four Corners region. Two years following the deadly debacle, Woody was moved to the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife, where he also served as head of law enforcement. But interestingly, during the much-touted ‘reorganization’ of the Interior Department and its agencies, in April of 2017, Woody was reassigned to again take over law enforcement operations at the BLM.
A string of exercises in federal overreach all but destroyed westerners’ trust in the BLM. But Dan Love, the BLM SAC behind Operation Cerberus, the Bundy Ranch raid, and whose name is connected with numerous other crimes and debacles, became the face of government at its worst.
The #GoogleDanLove social media hashtag was not invented by Twitter or Facebook, it was created by Americans familiar with the extreme and sometimes lethal actions of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), who felt compelled to make the truth known about the agency’s abusive and dangerous Special Agent in Charge (SAC), Dan Love. A string of exercises in federal overreach, such as the prosecution of the Dwight and Steven Hammond on terrorism charges; Operation Cerberus, which lead to the deaths of several men in the Four Corners region; the burning of ranches and cattle in Oregon, the failed Bundy Ranch raid, and the confrontation outside of John Day, Oregon that ended in the murder of Arizona rancher, LaVoy Finicum, all but destroyed westerners’ trust in the BLM. But Dan Love, the BLM SAC behind Operation Cerberus, the Bundy Ranch raid, and whose name is connected with numerous other crimes and debacles, became the face of government at its worst. And now, when you Google Dan Love, you will see his career at the BLM–which ended only last year after public outcry and stinging embarrassment to the agency–summarized in a list of scandals and wanton acts of degeneracy.
Lifelong Southern Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, recently cleared of federal charges and freed from jail after nearly two years, has turned his sights on state and county government.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Clark County District Court, Bundy claimed that former President Barack Obama’s late 2016 establishment of the Gold Butte National Monument, which occurred while the rancher was in federal custody, was “as illegal as it is unlawful” and would preclude him from continuing to function on his land “and destroy the petitioner’s livelihood.”
Bureau of Land Management officials in Las Vegas postponed discussion of the monument at its meetings this month until the Trump administration decides on possible changes to the Obama-era land designation.
“Recognizing that the land is not owned by the United States of America, (Bundy) has avoided erroneously giving money to an entity which does not actually own the land and has been careful not to give money erroneously to a stranger to the land,” according to the rancher’s lawsuit. “Thus, there is an actual, significant legal controversy of great consequence not only to petitioner in terms of as to whom has ownership and jurisdiction of the land but to People of Nevada and Clark county, the rightful owners of Nevada land.”
Federal Judge, Gloria Navarro’s dismissal of the Bundy Ranch trial last December was attributed in large part to explosive revelations of misconduct, and ethical and legal violations in a letter written by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agent Larry ‘Clint’ Wooten, to Deputy Attorney General Andrew D. Goldsmith, the National Criminal Discovery Coordinator. The descriptions of unprofessionalism, sexism, and conspiratorial motives in the letter were so shocking that they tanked the federal prosecution’s case. The 18-page letter also contains damning accounts of unconscionable behavior and acts perpetrated by BLM Special Agent in Charge (SAC), Dan Love, which have been largely overlooked by media.
“Cliven Bundy was accused of conspiracy against the government,” reported the Western Livestock Journal in a January 8 article on the Bundy ruling. “Instead,” it noted, “the Bundy trial showed it was the government that was conspiring against him.” That charge does not exaggerate in the least the gravity of the government’s wrongdoing in the case.
During her ruling of a mistrial on December 20, Judge Navarro spent nearly 45 minutes reading from the bench, details of the federal misconduct, that she found to be so outrageous and flagrant. A central component of that misconduct concerned the government’s willful withholding of thousands of pages of evidence that supported the Bundys’ defense, and to which the defendants were legally entitled.
The lead prosecutor in the Nevada standoff case against Cliven Bundy, two of his sons and a fourth alleged ringleader told a jury in his opening statement last month that the case centered on the need to respect the rule of law.
Five weeks later, it was the prosecution team’s abuse of the rule of law that sunk the case, leading to a judge’s declaration Wednesday of a mistrial.
U.S. District Judge Gloria M. Navarro methodically listed the prosecution’s six separate violations of the Brady law, which requires turning over evidence potentially favorable to the defense. The judge further ruled that each violation was willful.
If ever there was a time when federal prosecutors needed to make sure they acted with complete integrity it was in the high-stakes Bundy case, legal observers say. The defendants already held a deep suspicion of the government and had successfully rallied followers to their cause.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions stepped into the Bundy prosecution after Wednesday’s mistrial, ordering a third-party examination of the case in light of the latest government snafu.
“The attorney general takes this issue very seriously and has personally directed that an expert in the [Justice Department’s] discovery obligations be deployed to examine the case and advise as to the next steps,” said Ian D. Prior, the department’s principal deputy director of public affairs, in a late Wednesday statement.
The decision to intervene came after Chief U.S. District Court Judge Gloria Navarro declared a mistrial over the government’s “willful failure to disclose information” to the defense, saying it would have been “impossible” for the four co-defendants to receive a fair trial.
In identifying the Misdeeds of Government, it requires a diligent search of available information. However, often that research produces some interesting results. That is the situation with this article, since it begins with events surrounding the arrest of Dave Bundy (The Bundy Affair – #12 – Dave Bundy’s Two Citations), on April 6, 2014, and ends with the declaration of Mistrial on Decembers 20, 2017. However, in that span of time, over three and a half years, the following events played out.
Dave Bundy was pulled over on Nevada State Highway 170, a road that goes from Interstate 15, near the road to the Bundy Ranch, to Bunkerville. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had attempted to close the highway.
Dave got into a dispute with the BLM and was arrested and charged with two citations (explained in the linked article above). It is this arrest that begins this series of events. First, we have, from the National Park Service “DIRECTOR’S ORDER #9: LAW ENFORCEMENT PROGRAM”, which, on page 2, explains when and where arrests may be made.
I received in the mail, with no return address, an 18 page email that I had heard about. However, the details in what I had heard were minimal, at best. But, having the whole 18 pages, I find that the initial, or original email was only 17 pages.
In an undated email from Larry Wooten to Andrew D. Goldsmith, Associate Deputy Attorney General, National Criminal Discovery Coordinator, Wooten writes of many misdeeds in the entire Gold Butte Impound Operation, that being the operation that unfolded near Bunkerville, Nevada, back in early April 2014.
In a cover email, the eighteenth page, to Steven Myhre, United States Attorney for the Nevada District, in a forwarded email, the 17 page emails is included for a total of 18 pages. Wooten explains in the cover email that his superiors, his chain of command, would not deal with what he had presented to them. I’m not quite sure why he sent it to Myhre, since Myhre is implicated in the information, along with any others.
Prosecutors shared it last week with defense lawyers for Bundy, his two sons and co-defendant Ryan Payne as they were in the midst of their conspiracy trial, but it’s not part of the public court record.
The memo prompted Cliven Bundy’s lawyer to file a motion early Monday to dismiss the case, already in disarray over concerns raised previously about the government’s failure to promptly share evidence with the defense.
The judge sent the jury home for more than a week as she tries to sort out the claims and prosecutors scramble to save their case.
The memo comes from Larry Wooten, who had been the lead case agent and investigator for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management after the tense confrontation outside the patriarch’s ranch near Bunkerville. Wooten also testified before a federal grand jury that returned indictments against the Bundys. He said he was removed from the investigation last February after he complained to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nevada.
Two days after federal judge suggested the possibility of a mistrial in the Bunkerville standoff case, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and a group of Nevada newspapers asked to unseal trial documents discussed behind closed courtroom doors.
‘There is insufficient basis to maintain certain motions and transcripts under seal in this case and to continue to close hearings to the public,” the motion filed Wednesday evening states. “Sealing documents and closing hearings is inimical to this Country’s and this Court’s long tradition of open trials, guaranteed by both the First Amendment and common law — a right of access that is always important, but particularly critical in this case.”
In his newly published book, “Wild Horse Country,” writer David Philipps offers his suggestion for what to do about the overpopulation of wild horses in the West, which are overgrazing the open range: “The solution is mountain lions.”
Realizing that this will leave horse-huggers aghast and cause cattle and sheep ranchers to gasp, Philipps forges ahead, “For decades, the BLM has said the wild horse has ‘no natural predators.’ … But the same people who have long dismissed using predators to control horses as impossible have never made an attempt to understand it. They have likely been too busy rounding up and storing horses. If they took the time to look into the idea of mountain lions, they would see that research on the ground contradicts the conventional wisdom.”