Fallout from the Malheur Wildlife Refuge protest continues for Arizona rancher
Jeanette Finicum has managed grazing decisions on her northern Arizona ranch alone since her husband, Robert “LaVoy” Fincium, was shot and killed during the protest on the Malheur Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., on Jan. 26, 2016.
Pounding staples, doctoring sick calves and putting out mineral are on Jeanette’s list of tasks to complete throughout the year. Those are the easy jobs. She will soon add a more painful item to the list: filing suit against the Bureau of Land Management.
Although she’s provided a check to fully cover fines assessed over the last year, the BLM has locked her out of both the winter and summer grazing ranges.
The Finicums manage two separate grazing permits — summer and winter. Their 16,000 acres of winter range can be grazed between Oct. 15 and May 15.
During the fall of 2015, LaVoy decided to utilize a pasture on his winter range that hadn’t been grazed in six years. Although his range allotment agreement allows him 169 animal unit months (AUM), LaVoy had never turned out more than 70 head of cows on his winter range — in fact, many years it was less than that. He put his cattle on this pasture about 40 days before Oct. 15.
In order to best utilize the grass, some of the 70 cows remained on that pasture throughout the winter, and others were moved to the mountain where the rest of the winter range is located.
“As ranchers we take into consideration all of these things — we want to use the grass in a way that is best for the grass,” Jeanette said.
Jeanette explained that the land that she and LaVoy always considered their “summer” range is actually a small allotment that allows for maintenance of 35 AUMs year round, but they only used the land in the summer.
“It wouldn’t serve that property well (to graze it year round). We want to be good stewards of the range,” she said. “I know there are bad apples out there but most ranchers want the land to be well taken care of to be able to produce and stay healthy.”
The Finicums’ grazing fees have always been paid in full, she said. Before traveling to Oregon to join protesters in opposition to the arrest of federal land ranchers Steven and Dwight Hammond, LaVoy had announced his plan to begin to pay his grazing fees to the county rather then the federal government. He believed that constitutionally the state and county should be managing the land. “He made the announcement that he was no longer going to sign the contract, but the contracts were still in effect.” Because of of LaVoy’s untimely death, the contract remained intact and grazing fees were paid, Jeanette said.
Jeanette said that the BLM fined her trespass fees for the days the cattle were on the winter allotment prior to Oct. 15, and the fees continued to accrue, even after the Oct. 15 turn-out date came and went.
In an effort to reduce the trespass fees to a more reasonable figure, Jeanette negotiated with the BLM throughout the spring. It came to her attention that she would not be allowed to use her “summer” range and she began to look for alternative pasture. Finding none, she felt like she had “nowhere to go,” and decided to dry-lot her cows and calves, taking them off winter range the first weekend in July.
Although Tri-State Livestock News asked Arizona state BLM representatives a number of questions relating to this subject, their response was brief:
“The Bureau of Land Management has been in contact with attorneys representing Jeanette Finicum and LaVoy Finicum’s estate since May 2016, in an attempt to resolve fines associated with a nearly year-long grazing trespass on the Tuckup Allotment,” said Amber Cargile, director of communications for the Arizona BLM.
Jeanette continued to negotiate with the BLM to reduce the trespass fines and to complete paperwork the BLM was calling for because they were not recognizing her as the allotment owner.
Rather than allow Jeanette to take over the grazing allotments after LaVoy’s death, state BLM representatives said she was not considered the heir to the allotments, even though she was the widow of one. They told her the grazing permits terminated upon his death and that she would have to start at square one with the application process to graze her cattle on the allotment. Jeanette said the BLM also told her that her grazing rights are not “inheritable,” but she and her attorney disagree. “It is property and an asset to our estate,” she said.
The BLM said an environmental impact study would have to be conducted to determine whether or not she was eligible to graze the allotments.
Jeanette’s attorney advised her that under BLM rule 43 CFR 4110.2-3, she has two years to meet any paperwork requirements, and the BLM must allow her to continue to graze her cattle during those two years. Jeanette said she and her attorneys brought this law to the attention of BLM representatives and were told, “we don’t do it that way.”
“The BLM recognizes that Mrs. Finicum is a personal representative of her late husband’s estate. The BLM has been working with Mrs. Finicum and her legal counsel on issues related to both the fees associated with her husband’s estate as well as the future of the permit. Due to the ongoing nature of these discussions, we’re not at liberty to provide additional details at this time,” BLM’s Cargile said.
Jeanette drylotted the cows and calves throughout the summer to avoid selling the entire herd. She worked to meet BLM requirements and planned to turn her cattle out on winter range at the proper time without incident. Fines of more than $12,000 had mounted over the trespass and when negotiations continued to dead-end, Jeanette decided to pay those fines in full.
With a 50-mile trail to her winter range, Jeanette had begun moving cattle on Oct. 13, planning to make about 15 miles per day until she arrived. Her mother-in-law paid the BLM $12,355.47, the amount of the trespass fines, and she turned in her application for the environmental impact study. “I was told we had a deal with the BLM,” she said.
About one full day into the trail, a messenger arrived telling her that the BLM would not take her check and that she would not be allowed to turn her cattle onto her BLM winter range allotment.
“They said they weren’t accepting my check,” she said. “I’m 14 miles into the middle of the desert with cows and calves and nowhere to go.”
“I had to find another range. My attorney and I, at that point, were still trying to negotiate. We thought it would be less than 30 days and I’d be back on my range. Finally my attorney said, ‘Jeanette, this is ridiculous.’ They won’t even follow their own laws, you need to do something, you need to move forward.”
So she decided to file suit.
In the meantime, Jeanette said her sister-in-law has offered pasture for her cattle.
While she and her late husband always maintained a cordial working relationship with their local BLM office, the state office has now been in communication with her regarding all of these issues, Jeanette said. “My husband and I liked the local range conservationists. We always got along with them. But their hands are tied.” She said that the state BLM office only communicates vaguely, such as offering to negotiate but not following through. “They say they want to work with you but then they do nothing.
They don’t want my cows back out there.”
She’s “a little angry,” at the whole situation. “My husband is dead because he went out to help the Hammonds. He stood for them and now they (the federal government) are trying real hard to make an example out of my husband. This is what will happen if you dare stand up. It’s like they are saying ‘you get in your place and don’t get out of it again or we’ll put you in solitary confinement or we’ll kill you.’ That’s what I see happening — innocent people are in jail right now,” she said, referencing Steven and Dwight Hammond and five members of the Bundy family.
LaVoy was shot to death during last January’s protest on the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. At the time, he was traveling with a caravan of peaceful protesters to a community meeting about federal land issues in nearby John Day,
State and federal officers arrested all members of the party except LaVoy, who they killed after he exited his vehicle at a police stop point. The Oregon State Police said that LaVoy was reaching for a weapon.
The Oregon State Police were cleared of wrongdoing in March when local investigators determined that the state troopers’ fatal shots were justified. But two shots from FBI agents remain under investigation. Initially FBI agents denied taking the shots toward LaVoy as he exited the vehicle with his hands in the air, but it was later proven that the shells were deployed from FBI weapons.
Jeanette said she has filed an intent to sue for wrongful death over LaVoy’s death. ❖
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