Indian sisters Carrie and Mary Dann lost hundreds of horses and cows Friday as the federal Bureau of Land Management started a surprise roundup to get the animals off public lands.
BLM State Director Bill Templeton said the Danns had put the livestock on the public lands in Crescent Valley, southwest of Carlin in northeast Nevada, without BLM authorization about two or three weeks ago.The Danns have argued for years that they and other members of the Western Shoshone Nation are a sovereign government exempt from the BLM standards.
David Solnik of American Peace Test in Las Vegas, one of the groups that had warned of a confrontation if the BLM went ahead with a roundup last fall, termed the latest roundup "an outrageous betrayal of a good-faith agreement."
Lena Yowell, wife of Western Shoshone National Council Chief Raymond Yowell, said her husband knew nothing about the plan in advance. "They went ahead and did it without notifying anyone," she added.
But Templeton said the Danns, who have no phone on their remote ranch, were sent a warning letter. He added that the livestock will be trucked to Elko and held in temporary pens.
Templeton said the Danns had put about 200 cows and 200 horses on public lands without authorization. He added that the land already is heavily grazed and can't take the extra grazing pressure.
BLM spokesman Bob Stewart said contract cowboys were hired to gather the animals. He said the livestock will be sold unless the Danns pay the impound and trespass fees. Any balance after the government's costs are deducted will be sent to the sisters.
Last fall, the BLM and the Shoshone Indians reached an agreement that there would be no federal roundup as long as the Danns trimmed their herd size. But Stewart said that agreement fell apart in November.
The sisters, first charged in 1974 with overgrazing BLM land surrounding their 800-acre spread, say the land is ancestral land and that they can graze as many animals as they like without the United States' permission.
Last June, U.S. District Judge Bruce Thompson rejected the sisters' request to disqualify the government from the case and their claim that their nation is sovereign under the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley.
Since Thompson initially ruled in favor of the sisters 17 years ago, the case has been to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals three times and to the U.S. Supreme Court before being sent back to the Reno court.
Last August, the sisters and the council sued to reclaim what they say are millions of acres of ancestral lands and more than $100 billion in damages.
The lawsuit says the government reneged on the 1863 treaty and seeks an order granting the Western Shoshone title to land stretching from Southern California's Coachella Valley north to Twin Falls, Idaho, and including about half of Nevada and a sliver of Utah.