Nevada rancher sentenced for public land grazing violations

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Nevada rancher ordered confined in federal grazing dispute.

By SCOTT SONNER, Associated Press Writer

3/12/02

RENO, Nev. (AP) - A Nevada rancher convicted twice for trespassing cattle on national forest land was sentenced Monday to a halfway house for 30 days and to house arrest for three months.

Cliff Gardner, 63, Ruby Valley, also was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and placed on probation for a year for his latest conviction in an 8-year feud with the Forest Service over livestock grazing regulations.

After his release from the Reno halfway house, which a federal prosecutor described as a "jail-like facility," Gardner will be subject to electronic monitoring during house arrest at his ranch in eastern Nevada.

U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben fined Gardner $1,000 last year for trespassing on Forest Service lands and noted Monday that he had shown some leniency by rejecting the Justice Department's request that the rancher be given a suspended jail sentence at that time.

"You nevertheless elected to violate the law again," McKibben said in issuing the new sentence Monday.

"It is without question and quite clear from the record that your actions were willful," he said, adding that Gardner has been "contemptuous of this court" in the process.

"Most, virtually all the ranchers in the district of Nevada are law-abiding," McKibben said. "They don't follow the law just as they see it, they follow the law."

More than 50 state's rights activists, area ranchers and other critics of federal management of public lands rallied in front of the U.S. courthouse then packed the courtroom to show their support.

About a dozen protesters on horseback carried Nevada state flags and waved signs that read, "Save the stockmen from BLM and Forest Service," and "Endangered Species: Ranchers on public land."

"Stand up against the tyranny of the government," shouted one protester dressed in a white wig as a patriot from the American Revolution.

Gardner maintains neither the Forest Service nor the federal court has the authority to prohibit grazing by ranchers whose families were on the land before the Humboldt National Forest was established in northeast Nevada in 1907. He argues his cattle must graze on the forage to reduce the threat of catastrophic fires that nearly destroyed his ranch in recent years.

He said he would appeal the sentencing but intended to report April 3 to the Reno halfway house as ordered.

"All I have done is stand up for my rights," Gardner told McKibben.

"Over the past 10 years, the government has been successful in causing a great number of ranching families to abandon their (grazing) allotments not only in Nevada but across the West," he said. He told reporters afterward he probably would have to sell 200 to 300 head of his 500 cattle to pay the fine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Sullivan had asked that Gardner be sentenced to 30 days in jail with no fine.

"Based on the history of this case, we've come to the conclusion we can't do anything else but ... put him in jail. Unfortunately, it has come to that," Sullivan told the judge.

"I don't think he is going to stop doing what he's doing. He's misguided in his understanding of the law," he said.

Sullivan said he was pleased with the sentencing, beginning with the 30 days at the halfway house in Reno where other low-risk convicts serve their sentences.

"It is a jail-type facility because you are confined. Sometimes you are allowed to leave to work," he said.

"Basically (the judge) gave him more than we were asking for because it is 30 days, plus 90 days of detention and the $5,000 fine."
 

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