Ranchers defy U.S. in grazing parched Nevada lands, environmentalists say

(Reuters) - A Nevada ranch defied U.S. drought closure orders in grazing cattle on federally managed land, environmentalists said on Wednesday, comparing it to action by another Nevada rancher that led to an armed standoff last year with federal agents.

The ranchers in the Battle Mountain area in northern Nevada let their livestock graze on Tuesday at the North Buffalo allotment managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Western Watersheds Project said in a statement.

“The ranchers generate public sympathy for their custom and culture, all the while despoiling the land, wildlife, and water and disregarding the laws that govern the heavily subsidized grazing permits they feel so entitled to,” said Ken Cole, Idaho director for Western Watersheds Project.

Ranchers Dan and Eddyann Filippini announced their action in a Facebook post titled: “Badger Ranch makes a stand!”

The couple said the cattle had been eating hay since September 2014, as opposed to the preferred combination of feed and pasture. They also made reference to rainfall in the area over the previous two weeks.

“The cattle are tapped out. The resource fee is not the issue with these beautiful timely rains. We are protecting our lives, liberty and property,” the post said.

Controversy over grazing also arose in Nevada last year involving rancher Cliven Bundy, who had stopped paying monthly fees the government charges ranchers to let their cattle roam federal range lands.

After the BLM sent armed rangers to Bundy’s ranch to round up his cattle, anti-government groups and other supporters rallied to his defense. Following a brief armed standoff, the federal agents ultimately backed down, citing safety concerns and returned the cattle they had seized.

Commenting on the action by the Filippinis, BLM spokesman Rudy Evenson said the agency had closed public land within the allotment to grazing in 2013 after they violated a limited grazing agreement triggered by drought.

The Filippinis appealed the closure with the Interior Board of Land Appeals and a decision in the matter was pending, as was a second appeal over a separate grazing area called the Argenta allotment, Evenson said.

“We need to be working with them to figure out a solution that ensures sustainable grazing,” Evenson said. “The BLM is not going to confront the Filippinis or interfere with the turnout. We are reminding them that the Battle Mountain complex is still closed.”

Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Peter Cooney