Tag Archives: ranchers

FBI seeks peaceful end to occupation at Oregon refuge

Federal law enforcement officials on Jan. 4 sought a peaceful end to the occupation of the headquarters of a U.S. wildlife refuge in Oregon launched over the weekend by a group of militiamen angry over the imminent imprisonment of two ranchers.

The occupation, which began on Jan. 2, was the latest skirmish over federal land management in the American West and reflected an anti-government stance held by some Americans.

On Monday morning, a group of about a half-dozen occupiers could be seen outside the facility, with some manning a watchtower and others standing around a vehicle they had used to block the road leading to the building. They chatted quietly among themselves as a large group of media looking on. None were visibly armed.

The occupation followed a protest march in Burns, a small city about 50 miles north of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, over the imminent imprisonment of ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven Hammond.

The Hammonds were found guilty in 2012 of setting a series of fires including a 2001 blaze intended to cover up evidence of deer poaching that went on to burn 139 acres (56 hectares) of public lands, according to federal prosecutors.

They were initially sentenced to 12 months in prison, below the federal minimum for arson, but a U.S. district judge in October raised the sentences to five years.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to give details on plans by federal officials for dealing with the occupiers.

Law enforcement officials and the leader of the occupation, Ammon Bundy, declined to say how many people were occupying the refuge headquarters.

Bundy is the son of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher whose family staged a 2014 armed protest against federal land management officials that ended with authorities backing down, citing safety concerns.

Ammon Bundy told ABC News on Monday that members of his group were armed.

“It’s important that we stand and people know that we’re serious,” he said. “We understand that in order to truly express our First Amendment rights, we have to have our Second Amendment rights.” The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to free speech, and the Second protects the right to bear arms.

In a statement, the FBI said it was seeking a “peaceful resolution to the situation,” but offered few details.

“Due to safety considerations for both those inside the refuge as well as the law enforcement officers involved, we will not be releasing any specifics with regards to the law enforcement response,” the FBI said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said late Sunday that all of its staff from the facility were safe and accounted for.

A lawyer for the Hammonds sought to distance his clients from Bundy and his armed band, saying they did not speak for the family.

Hammond and his son were convicted in 2012 of setting fires which inadvertently spread to public land. On Sunday evening, they traveled to Los Angeles to surrender to federal authorities, according to their lawyer, W. Alan Schroeder. They were to be sent back to prison after federal prosecutors won an appeal that resulted in their being re-sentenced to longer terms.

The occupation was part of a decades-old conflict between ranchers and the federal government over Washington’s management of hundreds of thousands of acres of range land. Critics of the federal government say it often oversteps its authority and exercises arbitrary power over land use without sufficient accountability.

The Hammond ranch borders on the southern edge of the Oregon refuge, a bird sanctuary in the arid high desert in the eastern part of the state, about 305 miles (490 km) southeast of Portland.

The Bundy ranch standoff in 2014 drew hundreds of armed protesters after the Bureau of Land Management sought to seize Bundy’s cattle because he refused to pay grazing fees. Federal agents backed down in the face of the large numbers of armed protesters and returned hundreds of cattle.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, encompassing 292 square miles (75,630 hectares), was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt as a breeding ground for greater sandhill cranes and other native birds. The headquarters compound includes a visitor center, a museum and the refuge office.

US announces plans to reduce agricultural carbon emissions

Federal agricultural officials announced voluntary programs and initiatives for farmers, ranchers and foresters meant to build on President Barack Obama’s efforts to combat global warming — and they don’t require congressional approval.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled the plans at Michigan State University, where Obama signed the sweeping farm bill into law last year. The efforts, many of which have their roots in that law, aim to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions, boost carbon capture and storage and come with various enticements, including grants, low-interest loans and technical assistance.

Vilsack said the agriculture industry accounts for about 9 percent of U.S. emissions, adding that compares favorably with the rest of the globe but can be improved.

“American farmers and ranchers are leaders when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and improving efficiency in their operations,” he said in prepared remarks. “We can build on this success in a way that combats climate change and strengthens the American agriculture economy.”

Before the event, Vilsack said officials “want to do this in a way that will help not only the environment but also improve agricultural productivity with improved yields, and we can also improve the bottom line of producers with greater efficiency.”

Obama administration aides have said the issue of climate change became even more attractive after the November election, because the Democrat has considerable leverage to act without Congress. Such actions, though, have drawn fierce objections from Republicans and the energy industry.

Specific actions include reducing the unnecessary use of fertilizer and methane emissions from cattle and swine, reforesting areas damaged by wildfire and disease and encouraging tree planting in urban areas. For methane reduction in particular, the federal program promotes installing more anaerobic digesters, which use naturally occurring bacteria to break down organic waste to produce biogas, a fuel similar to natural gas.

Vilsack’s department estimates that if all steps are followed, it would reduce emissions and enhance carbon sequestration by roughly 120 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent _ akin to taking 25 million cars off the road a year.

Already, Obama has moved to cut U.S. emissions through tougher fuel economy standards and has set a target of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28 percent below its 2005 level by 2025.

Last year’s landmark agreement that commits the U.S. and China — the No. 1 and No. 2 greenhouse gas emitters — to dramatic action on carbon emissions in the coming years drew sharp criticism. Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma who’s the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called that agreement “hollow and not believable,” and has previously vowed to block Obama’s moves.

White House senior adviser Brian Deese said although there’s “a lot of focus on climate change here in Washington,” the issue becomes less rancorous and political elsewhere.

“One of the things that is striking when you get out into different parts of America and you talk to people about their business, communities and how a changing climate is affecting the way they do business, the issue is not partisan, it’s practical,” he said, adding that the many of the steps being taken by the USDA stem from the farm bill passed with bipartisan support. 

Wisconsin ranks No. 8 in number of farmers markets

There are few better places to buy summer vegetables, fresh cheese curds and homemade baked goods than Wisconsin, which has the eighth-most farmers markets of any state in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this summer has put the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison in the spotlight. The market held on the square surrounding the state Capitol is the largest producer-only farmers market in the country, meaning all of the roughly 160 vendors must grow or make their own products. They can’t sell items purchased from others.

The market serves as an example “of how farmers markets can be a huge success for the local economy and the farmers and consumers,” said Anne Alonzo, who leads USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

Nationwide, the number of farmers markets registered with the USDA has grown from about 3,700 a decade ago to 8,268 this year. In Wisconsin, the number of markets has grown from 170 to 295 in that time.

Here are a few other things to know about farmers markets and the USDA’s efforts to promote sales of locally produced food:

• “THE FACE OF AGRICULTURE”

Alonzo describes farmers markets as “the face of agriculture,” with 150,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide selling directly to consumers.

“I think the best part is that these farmers markets help local economies because the food is produced, it’s processed, it’s distributed and it’s sold there, and so it stays in the local economy and the money stays there, leading to what we believe is strong economic development and job creation,” she said.

• FIND A FARMERS MARKET OR CSA

Alonzo has been in Wisconsin in part to promote the USDA’s online National Farmers Market Directory, which consumers can use to find markets near them. The agency plans to launch a similar directory of community-supported agriculture, or CSA, programs next year.

CSAs typically provide weekly deliveries of produce and other products, such as eggs or honey, to people who buy season-long subscriptions.

“We think there’s a lot of benefits to both farmers and consumers vis-a-vis CSAs,” Alonzo said. “Farmers can distribute their products during the hours that work for them, and they receive payment for the products early in the season, which helps the farms’ economic planning. And this gives consumers access to … a wide variety of fresh, local food.”

More than 12,000 farms nationwide offered CSAs last year, she said.

• FOOD HUBS

The next big thing in the local food movement is likely to be the growth of food hubs, where farmers who can’t make deliveries or aren’t interested in marketing can bring food to be packaged and sold. The number of food hubs nationwide has doubled since 2009 to more than 300.

The USDA is working to put together a directory of them as well.

“We’re really excited about these new business models,” Alonzo said. She added, “I think it’s a win-win. It’s a win for the farmers, it’s a win for the food hub and it’s a win for consumers because … it makes a lot of sense.”

On the Web …

USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory: http://search.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets

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U.S. Wildlife Services killed more than 2 million wild animals in fiscal 2013

The Wildlife Services section of the U.S. Agriculture Department killed more than 2 million wild animals in fiscal 2013, including wolves, coyotes, bears, mountain lions foxes, eagles and other animals.

The increase of almost a half-million animals since fiscal year 2012 represents a 29 percent increase in the program’s killing and ends an overall downward trend since 2008.

The federal program’s latest kill report includes more than 320 gray wolves and one endangered Mexican wolf, 75,326 coyotes, 419 black bears, 866 bobcats, 528 river otters, 3,706 foxes, three golden eagles and a bald eagle, according to the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.

The division also killed 12,186 black-tailed prairie dogs and destroyed more than 30,000 of their dens.

“Rather than dialing back in the face of criticism, the program that has the nerve to call itself ‘Wildlife Services’ seems to be putting its foot on the pedal in its systematic slaughter of America’s wild animals,” said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which has petitioned to reform the program. “These numbers pull back the veil on a staggering killing campaign, bankrolled by taxpayers, that’s happening every day beyond the view of most Americans.”

The new data reveal the federal program has increased its killing despite a growing public outcry, an ongoing investigation by the Agriculture Department’s inspector general and calls for reform by scientists, members of Congress and nongovernmental organizations.

“Wildlife Services has long been out of step with the values of Americans, and the new figures make clear it has no interest in changing,” said Atwood. “These appalling new numbers show that Wildlife Services is simply thumbing its nose at the growing number of Americans demanding an end to business as usual at Wildlife Services.”

Since 1996, Wildlife Services has shot, poisoned and strangled by snare more than 26 million native animals.

Last December, the Center and other animal welfare and environmental groups submitted a petition to the Agriculture Department calling for new rules to reform the program.

On the Web …

StopWildlifeKilling.org

Dairy group wants to defend Idaho ‘ag gag’ law against filming animal abuse

The Idaho Dairymen’s Association is asking a federal judge to allow the industry group to intervene in a lawsuit against a new law that makes it illegal to secretly film animal abuse at agricultural facilities.

The dairymen’s association filed a motion to join Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden as a defendant in the lawsuit.

A coalition of animal activists, civil rights groups and media organizations sued the state last month, asking U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill to strike down what they call an “ag gag” law. The coalition contends that the law criminalizes whistleblowing by curtailing freedom of speech, and that it makes gathering proof of animal abuse a crime with a harsher punishment than the penalty for animal cruelty itself.

Proponents of the law say it prevents animal rights groups from targeting agricultural businesses, and that it protects the private property and privacy rights of agricultural operators.

In the motion to intervene, attorney Daniel Steenson said the association’s members could be substantially affected by the results of the lawsuit, and so the association has the right to intervene.

“The Complaint makes clear that, without the protection the statute provides, IDA members will again be targeted for clandestine infiltration by individuals masquerading as employees to gather evidence to be used against them in criminal prosecutions, media persecutions, and economic sabotage,” Steenson wrote.

The Idaho Legislature passed the law earlier this year after Idaho’s $2.5 billion dairy industry complained that videos showing cows being abused at a southern Idaho dairy hurt business.

The Los Angeles-based animal rights group Mercy For Animals released the videos, which showed workers at Bettencourt Dairy beating cows in 2012. 

The law says people caught surreptitiously filming agricultural operations face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

By comparison, a first animal cruelty offense is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. A second offense within 10 years of the first conviction carries a penalty of up to nine months in jail and a fine up to $7,000.

The groups bringing the lawsuit are the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, the Center for Food Safety, Farm Sanctuary, River’s Wish Animal Sanctuary, Western Watersheds Project, Sandpoint Vegetarians, Idaho Concerned Area Residents for the Environment, Idaho Hispanic Caucus Institute for Research and Education, CounterPunch, Farm Forward, Will Potter, James McWilliams, Monte Hickman, Blair Koch and Daniel Hauff.

On the Web…

The Mercy for Animals video on YouTube. Caution, it is very difficult to watch.

Call to action: KXL opponents to march on Washington April 27

A coalition of tribal communities, ranchers, farmers, Canadian First Nations, environmental groups and communities along the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline route announced the Reject and Protect action in Washington, D.C.

The action will begin with a the arrival of activists on horseback on April 22, which is Earth Day, and it will culminate with a march on April 27.

An announcement of the event from the Cowboy and Indian Alliance — a group of tribal communities, farmers and ranchers united to stop the proposed Keystone XL pipeline — was in a letter organizers sent to hundreds of thousands of activists.

The Reject and Protect campaign is endorsed by a number of groups, whose leaders issued statements of support. They include:

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, spiritual leader among the Dakota, Lakota, Nakota people: “Each of us is put here in this time and this place to personally decide the future of mankind.  Do you think that the creator would create unnecessary people in a time of danger? Know that you are essential to this world. The biggest cancer spreading upon Mother Earth is the tar sands.”

Tom Genung, Nebraska Landowner: “As a land owner and a pipeline fighter, it is an honor and privilege to stand together with tribal brothers and sisters. It is our duty to protect the sacred for the seven generations to come. We stand together as one people working together to help President Obama take measures for clean environmental decisions which includes denial of TransCanada’s permit which has no legal route in our great state of Nebraska.”

Chief Reuben George, Tsleil-Waututh: “One thing I can say right off the bat is that we are winning. When we come together like this, we become stronger. There is no price for our water and lands.  The lessons we receive from Mother Earth is to become better human beings.  We give back to the earth and the land.  The pipelines do not do that.  We are going to win!”

Hilton Kelley, founder and director of Community In-Power and Development Association: “The people living on the Gulf of Mexico in the City of Port Arthur, TX and Houston, TX are disproportionately impacted by refinery and chemical plant emissions. A large number of our residents at this present time are suffering from respiratory issues, cancer and liver and kidney disease, If the tar sands material is piped into our community for refining at the neighboring plants, there will be a serious increase in the emission levels into the very air we breathe. Our state government has not been much help in supporting our efforts to reduce the toxins in our air; we most certainly hope that we can depend on our federal Government to protect those in the low income and people of color communities as well as all others.”

Bill McKibben, 350.org founder: “It was native people and Nebraska ranchers that really started this battle, and so it’s so fitting that they’re the ones leading this last appeal to the president to do the right thing. We’ve gone wrong in this country before when we didn’t listen to its original inhabitants; let’s hope Keystone becomes the opportunity to show we’re wising up.”

Faith Spotted Eagle, Yankton Sioux: “We are writing a new history by standing on common ground by preventing the black snake of Keystone XL from risking our land and water. We have thousands of Native sacred sites that will be affected adversely. The Americans facing eminent domain now know what it felt like for us to lose land to a foreign country.  There is no fairness or rationale to justify the risk of polluting our waterways with benzene and other carcinogens. Native people are ready to speak for the four-leggeds and the grandchildren who cannot speak for themselves. The answer is no pipeline.”

Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director: “The April 27 ’Reject and Protect’ march will focus on the communities on the front line of the Keystone XL tar sands fight. Dirty tar sands threaten our climate, and they threaten the health and well-being of the people who live along the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline route. For these families, nothing short of their water, land, and their children’s safety is at stake.  The Sierra Club is proud to stand with these communities and call on President Obama to reject dirty and dangerous tar sands once and for all.”

Roger Milk, Rosebud Sioux: “This just isn’t an Indian thing. We all drink the same water.”

Jane Kleeb, Bold Nebraska executive director: “Tribal and ranching communities protect our neighbors first and foremost. That is at our core. We will bring our pipeline fighting spirit to Washington, DC in order for President Obama to see our faces so he knows he is not making a decision about a line on a map, he is making a decision about our families and our neighbors. The President said he wants to be able to look at his daughters and say ‘yes he did’ do everything he could to combat climate change. We intend to ensure he honors his word.”

Gary Dorr, Nez Perce, Shielding the People media coordinator: “We will Stand the Line.”

Maura Cowley, Energy Action Coalition executive director: “Indigenous communities and ranchers are fighting to stop Keystone XL as a matter of survival, and it’s time that we and President Obama stand with them to stop this dirty and destructive project from ruining their land and water. For too long indigenous communities have encouraged us to look out for future generations and our country has ignored them. This must end with the Keystone decision, nothing short of our future is at stake.”

Becky Bond, CREDO political director: “People literally living on the frontlines of our fight against Keystone XL will be taking their case directly to the president in April. We stand in solidarity with the ranchers and tribes whose lands and waters face imminent danger from the imposition of a dirty pipeline by a foreign oil company. And CREDO joins over 86,000 people who are willing to risk arrest if necessary to back up that solidarity with action.”

On Twitter: #NOKXL