BLM fears same result, unlikely to auction seized cattle again

RENO, Nev. (AP) - The Bureau of Land Management is unlikely to try again to auction confiscated cattle at the Fallon auction yard where bidders protesting the government's seizure refused to make any offers this week, an agency official said Wednesday.

BLM officials are wary of opposition from a group of anti-federal activists, but still are considering shipping some of the more than 200 cattle seized in a federal grazing dispute somewhere else for public auction.

But officials probably won't decide before a state court hearing Aug. 21 on the fate of Goldfield rancher Ben Colvin's 62 cows, they said.

''It was not a surprise to us that we would not get bids,'' said John Winnepenninkx, a BLM natural resource specialist in Battle Mountain who helped conduct the attempted auction in Fallon on Tuesday.

''We probably will not offer them for sale again at Fallon, anticipating we would have the same kind of response,'' he said.

District Judge Robert Estes for Churchill and Lyon counties issued a temporary restraining order blocking the sale of Colvin's cattle after Colvin posted a $10,000 cash bond to cover expenses to the auction yard owner just minutes before the scheduled sale.

About an hour later, the BLM tried to auction off 78 cattle seized from Lida rancher Jack Vogt, but none of the 80 people in the sale barn offered the minimum-required bids on any of the cattle as protesters jeered BLM officials and shouted, ''Don't buy the cattle.''

''This was a real victory for Nevada. We stopped the sale of the cattle,'' said Janine Hansen, a local conservative activist and organizer of the anti-federal Nevada Committee for Full Statehood.

About 50 protesters picketed the auction yard Tuesday, waving Nevada state flags and carrying signs that read ''Ranchers are an Endangered Species,'' ''BLM Cattle Rustlers'' and ''Kiss My Bill of Rights.''

''This is just the beginning,'' said Colvin, 63, who will be back in Churchill County District Court in two weeks to try to win the release of his cattle.

''I'm not going to let the BLM come in here and take my property without a court order or due process,'' he said.

The BLM seized the cattle from Colvin and Vogt two weeks ago, accusing them of trespassing and owing the government more than a combined $350,000 in back fines and fees. BLM officials say the two have been trespassing on public land without a grazing permit despite repeated warnings since 1995.

Estes said in his three-page ruling that Colvin had filed a federal administrative appeal challenging the seizure of his cattle and that there is ''some evidence'' that the BLM ''may not have followed administrative procedure.''

BLM officials dispute that.

''We're very confident we followed all administrative procedures. We've been working with the U.S. attorney's office on that,'' Winnepenninkx said.

''The federal rules required us to offer these cattle for public sale, but the rules say we can do other things with them if they do not sell for a reasonable amount. We are not going to give them away for a buck,'' he said.

Jim Connelley, administrator of the Nevada Agriculture Department's brands division, said he was acting under the direct orders of state Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa in going forward with the auction.

Winnepenninkx said the cattle likely would be kept at the Fallon auction yard and feedlot owned by Gary Snow until the Aug. 21 hearing.

Seventy-eight of them are said to be Vogt's, although Carson City lawyer Julian Smith said he paid Vogt $115,000 for the cattle in February and they were to become his property upon roundup.

Those were the cattle that went up for auction to no avail.

Smith, who emphasized he has no involvement with the states' rights activists, said he would not oppose the auction of the those cattle but would wage a legal battle to recover the proceeds.

An estimated 95 cattle the BLM rounded up were unbranded and therefore considered state property, to be sold or otherwise disposed of by state agriculture department officials. Those sales have not been scheduled.


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