Turmoil shakes up agency in charge of vast U.S. lands

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.

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Prosecutors to seek nearly 3 1/2-year sentence for refuge occupier Ryan Payne

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.

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3% Stand With Snake River Ranchers

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.”

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Congress explores environmental destruction caused by illegal border crossings

“Illegal migrants, human traffickers, and drug smugglers, whether crossing by foot or using vehicles cause substantial damage to the natural and cultural resources found on federal lands. Tremendous amounts of human waste and garbage are left on borderlands every year. Medical supplies, diapers, clothing, and even broken-down cars are all left behind.”

On February 9, the House Committee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on existing regulatory impediments to securing the southern border. One of the topics addressed is the checkerboard of ‘sensitive’ wildland designations in states along the border with Mexico. The Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies are unable to gain ‘operational control’ of large regions of the border due to such designations and their accompanying prohibitions on access.

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Newspaper column: Move the headquarters of federal land agencies West : Feb 16 by Thomas Mitchell

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.

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Despite history of failures and corruption, William Woody back as BLM top cop

“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.

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Recently freed rancher Cliven Bundy sues Nevada, Clark County

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.”

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Wrongful Death Civil Suit Filed on the The Second Anniversary of Lavoy Finicum’s Murder in Oregon

Today,  Attorney Morgan Philpot, representing Jeanette Finicum, widow of Lavoy Finicum Shot and Killed at blind curve roadblock by Oregon State Police and FBI agents on January 26th, 2016, filed the attached Civil Demand for a Jury Trial in Oregon Federal District Court.

Lavoy was driving his truck with passengers Ryan Bundy, Shawna Cox, Victoria Sharp and Ryan Payne, to a meeting with Sherrif Glenn Palmer in John Day.  The murder and arrests marked the beginning of the end to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Harney County Oregon.

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Rebuke of U.S. attorneys in Cliven Bundy case: ‘Every prosecutor’s nightmare’

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.

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AG Sessions orders examination of Bundy case after mistrial over prosecution bungling

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.

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The Bundy Affair #23 – Larry Wooten – Ethical Government Employee, and Rare

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.

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BLM investigator alleges misconduct by feds in Bundy ranch standoff

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.

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Thomas Mitchell: What to do about wild horses? Part 2

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.”

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Interior secretary recommends shrinking Gold Butte

Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke on Tuesday recommended shrinking the boundaries of Gold Butte National Monument in a move that distressed conservationists, who have fought for years to protect the land near Mesquite. Zinke’s report came one day after the president slashed the size of two national monuments in Utah, a move that has already sparked a lawsuit.
Compared to the wholesale changes the president approved in Utah, any adjustments to Gold Butte are expected to be minor. But Zinke’s recommendations, although similar to a leaked draft in September, carry a symbolic weight for the area. They signal a major reversal of public lands policy that comes almost exactly one year after President Obama designated the nearly 300,000 acres that start about 10 miles from the site of the 2014 Bundy standoff.

“We will fight it in court,” Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center for Biological Diversity wrote in an email. “And we will win.”

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Southern Nevada District Resource Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement is being revived for the first time since 2014.

LAS VEGAS – The Bureau of Land Management requests public input for a Revised Draft Southern Nevada District Resource Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement. 

The BLM has determined that a Revised Draft RMP/EIS should be developed and an opportunity for public input is needed to gather additional information on the areas of renewable energy, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, lands with wilderness characteristics, land tenure adjustments (land disposals), Gold Butte National Monument, and socio-economics. 

Opportunity to provide input is offered from now until February 2, 2018. During this period, the BLM will conduct public meetings to present information and provide for the opportunity for public input. The Revised Draft RMP/EIS will incorporate substantive comments received from the initial Draft RMP/EIS and information received from the public input period and meetings. 

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Thomas Mitchell: Constitution stretched to the breaking point

If words can mean anything anyone says they mean, then words are meaningless. That is what the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has done with the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

The appellate court overturned a federal judge who found that the Commerce Clause does not give Congress the power under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to regulate a species that exists only within the boundaries of one state and has no commercial value whatsoever — specifically the Utah prairie dog.

Nevada has joined with Utah and 21 other states to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to strike the circuit court ruling, saying that if the ruling stands “then Congress has virtually limitless authority, and the Tenth Amendment is a dead letter,” as well as the concept of federalism. (prairiedogamicusbrief)

If Nevada is to have any control over any economic activity within its borders, which include numerous endangered and threatened species, it is vital that the high court reverse this Constitution-rendering exercise in legerdemain.

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Prosecutors ordered to share reports on any camera, armed officers’ surveillance outside Bundy ranch

LAS VEGAS — Prosecutors in the Bundy trial must provide information by noon Saturday on all armed federal officers who did surveillance outside the Bundy ranch and any cameras capturing images of the Bundy home between March 1 and April 12, 2014, a judge ordered Wednesday.

The information must be turned over to the defense.

It could help Cliven Bundy, sons Ammon Bundy and Ryan Bundy and co-defendant Ryan Payne challenge the allegation that they used “deceit and deception” to encourage supporters to come to the ranch by saying the house was surrounded, federal snipers were outside the home and the family felt isolated.

Defense lawyers said they learned for the first time on Tuesday of two federal officers dressed in camouflage and armed with AR-15 rifles posted outside the Bundy residence at night.

That information was contained in a written report that they received from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in preparation for Wednesday’s hearing on disputed discovery evidence.

“Wouldn’t it be important for the defense to know FBI agents are overlooking the Bundy residence with an AR-15?” asked Brenda Weksler, one of Payne’s defense lawyers. “How do we not have this until yesterday?”

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