Photo by Cathleen Allison
PALOMINO VALLEY -- Supporters of a Nevada rancher whose animals were seized by federal authorities were kept at bay by security Tuesday as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management auctioned off the 62 head of cattle.
The BLM confiscated Goldfield rancher Ben Colvin's cattle in late July because he has refused to pay fees for grazing on allotted public lands since 1995, amounting to fines and fees totaling more than $73,000.
Colvin says he's withheld payment because the BLM mismanaged the land by allowing wild horses and burros to run there, which took feed away from his herd, causing it to shrink from 900 head.
"I'd still be paying my fees if the BLM had managed those horses as they're supposed to," he said.
About 50 demonstrators joined Colvin outside a guarded gate at the BLM's National Wild Horse and Burro Center 25 miles north of Reno to protest Tuesday's sale.
A small plane circled overhead pulling a banner that read, "Don't buy stolen cattle." Demonstrators carried Nevada state flags and signs reading, "Government theft is still theft."
The 42 cows, 10 heifers, seven calves, one male calf and two bulls sold as a single lot for $13,000 -- about $27,000 below their estimated value, BLM spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said. The money will be applied toward Colvin's debt, though he remains liable for the balance.
Though few bidders showed up in person, the protesters apparently discouraged one potential buyer when he arrived shortly before the noon deadline. The group surrounded two men in their vehicle, yelling, "Don't go against the citizens," and "You're next."
The men left after talking through a window to a BLM official.
The cattle had been in legal limbo since Aug. 7 when a state judge blocked their sale, but a federal judge dismissed Colvin's suit against the BLM, clearing the way for the auction.