SALT LAKE CITY — A group of horseback riders drew stares, honks and a few handshakes and high-fives along Redwood Road Thursday, hooves clattering on pavement in a protest ride of federal land management policies.
The Utah trek of the Grass March Cowboy Express hit Salt Lake City and continued east up Parleys Canyon, with Tooele County Commission Chairman Bruce Clegg and Utah Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, riding in tandem.
With them they carried a mail pouch sporting a letter demanding the resignation of a BLM field office manager who ordered grazing reductions in Battle Mountain, Nevada, and petitions from rural Utah counties citing a long list of grievances on federal wild horse management, endangered species protections and land use policies.
"It is not working," said Ivory, the sponsor of Utah's 2012 Transfer of Public Lands Act, which demands the federal government cede title to certain lands within Utah's borders.
"We have a federal government that is so over-extended and over-indebted that it is restricting the access and diminishing the health and productivity of our federal lands, and something has got to change. What we are saying is that we be given the same treatment as states east of Colorado."
A copy of Ivory's HB148, complete with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's signature, is being carried back to Washington, D.C., as well as petitions from Box Elder, Washington and Iron counties.
The coast-to-coast ride began Sept. 26 in Bodega Bay, California, and is slated to end 2,800 miles and 20 days later at the doorstep of Congress.
It is there that organizer and rider Grant Gerber said the group hopes to get BLM's Battle Mountain District Manager Doug Furtado ousted from his job for "unjustly" ordering the eviction of cattle from the range.
"In my 35 years of dealing with the BLM, I have never seen a bureaucrat behave that aggressively," said Gerber, a rancher, attorney and Elko County commissioner. "This is regulation without representation, which amounts to tyranny."
Gerber is part of the original group of ranchers that began the trek in California. Clegg got involved at the Utah border and will also ride for the duration.
"I've ridden every day," said Gerber, 72. "But the best part so far was going across the desert in the Salt Flats. It was fast."
Western states' frustration with the BLM and Forest Service has taken on a political intensity, with a coalition of states arguing that federal lands have been mismanaged and would be better off under state control.
Utah, with Ivory at the helm, has been leading the charge. The state has established a Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands — which would set direction on how those lands are managed — passed a wilderness bill that allows for the state-creation of wilderness and is crafting a legal attack against federal agencies which will be carried out by the Utah Attorney Generals' Office.
Ranchers in the Grass March said they feel like they have been backed into a corner by the BLM.
"They're putting ranchers out of business," said Colleen Kness of Twin Falls, Idaho, sitting atop her horse, Gordon.
Kness, who makes a living working for ranchers, said the erosion of the ranching tradition has impacts the American public seldom thinks about: hardship to workers the ranchers support and higher beef costs.
"It will affect people at the supermarket," she said.
Eddy Ann Filipini is a Battle Mountain rancher riding back to Washington who said her family has felt the direct impacts of Furtado's decision.
"It's not right. The decision was not based on science. It was political," she said. "Everyone has been pretty complacent over the years over what is happening and the federal government takes a bit here, takes a bit there, and here we are, today."
Filipini said the experience of starting out in the surf in California, crossing her home state of Nevada and ambling down the streets of Salt Lake City has been almost surreal.
"I feel very privileged to be able to do this. It's been pretty emotional, actually. You get a lump in your throat when people show up to support you."
A local rally for the Grass March is being held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Utah State Fairgrounds. Cowboy poet and performing artist Waddie Mitchell will perform.