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A new breed of cattle rustlers

by Judi McLeod

December 29, 2004

It’s got all the ingredients of a made-for-TV-drama. The cattle are lowing and it’s another heartbreakingly beautiful sunset in New Mexico. A rancher and his 14-year-old son are out on horseback finishing up a long day’s work before heading home for supper. Shattering the silence of the pastoral landscape comes the law. An enforcement officer demands a permit of the rancher. When none is provided and the rancher and son continue to lead their horses, two more enforcement vehicles--lights flashing and sirens wailing give chase to the mounted horsemen.

Problem is this is no television movie. It’s real life for ranchers where radical environmentalists have gained influence over government agencies.

And it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

"In the past 10 years, Catron County ranchers have lost grazing rights for over 25,000 head of cattle, causing the county to lose over one million dollars per year in revenues," writes Lif Strand in ecofreedom. org. "This, combined with the virtual extermination of any forest thinning has devastated Catron County, causing not only financial ruin, but loss of custom and cultures."

The rancher, Kit Laney and son, chased on their own land by enforcement vehicles, are real. Kit and wife, Sherry Laney invested their life savings, their inheritance and their lives on a cattle ranch to eke out a living. Dangers lurking in this chosen lifestyle go far beyond rattlers and cougars. The 147,000-acre Diamond Bar Ranch, is largely dependent on a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) grazing permit.

"Originally, the Forest Service made promises, commitments, and agreements in writing with the Laneys, who would not have invested in the Diamond Bar without those commitments," Strand wrote.

When environmental groups brought pressure to bear, it was not the Laneys who cut and run for the hills, it was the pencil pushers at the government desks of the USFS.

In an apparent attempt to placate the environmentalist activists, the Forest Service reduced cattle numbers on the Diamond Bar, to the point of financially ruining its owners. Signed documents were later reneged on.

But while Forest Service personnel can count on a weekly government cheque they can’t count on much else.

"For the past 20 years, the U.S. Forest Service has been held hostage by extreme environmental groups in the name of the protection of the environment, whereas ranchers are the actual stewards of the land, and have been for generations," said Rufus Choate, Commissioner for Cantros County District 1. "These groups who claim to be champions of the environment are slowly destroying our public land."

Problems for independent ranchers do not begin and end with the capitulation of USFS. From Mother Nature, come catastrophic wildfires in Catron County, where, in the past two years alone, well over 200,000 acres have been razed.

Says Strand: "These fires, with temperatures of over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, sterilize the soil, obliterate habitat for wildlife and endangered species, pollute streams and watersheds, and take a century to come back. Fires have reached catastrophic proportions because environmentalists have halted forest restoration work in Catron County and elsewhere–filing lawsuits against the very forest restoration programs that would save the forests.

Without intervention, it’s a way of life heading for the end of an era for ranchers, large and small.

Environmental groups have bank accounts kept afloat by government grants and donations. Cliquish, they lean on each other for moral support. The rancher is on his own.

The Forest Service closed the Diamond Ranch last February to prepare for the removal of nearly 400 head of cattle in compliance with a federal court order. Forest Service contractors had rounded up and corralled about a hundred head, when reports reached Laney that the cattle were being mistreated–that calves were being separated from their mothers.

Emotionally, it was akin to throwing a lighted match into a dry tinderbox.

Laney, who raced off to check on his cattle, was said to have "spurred his horse to a fast gallop, charging officers and shouting profanities when he came upon a temporary enclosure at the Beaverhead Work Centre.

One officer was allegedly knocked into a cattle guard when Laney’s horse struck him on the left arm. Laney said one of the officers struck his horse on the head with a long-barrel flashlight.

The rancher, who wanted to release the fresh cows that had been separated from their calves, so they could go find them, was ultimately subdued with pepper spray. Led away in handcuffs, he was taken to the Dona Ana detention facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Originally denied bond on March 16 and awaiting another bond hearing on April 8, Laney subsequently went to trial in Albuquerque, New Mexico–some 200 miles from in his ranch, in an urban centre where there was little chance of finding a jury of his peers.

But he can count strong supporters from the side of the law. In a letter to the Forest Services, Catron County Sheriff Cliff Snyder said that he, and the public at large, are "beginning to believe that the law-enforcement officers’ only reason for being in the area is for the purpose of harassing the Laneys."

Then there’s Catron County Commission Ed Wehrheim who says, "Environmentalists are trying to make our public lands one use only–their use."

Like Arizona rancher Wally Klump, Kit Laney traded the wide-open outdoors for a lonely jail cell.

Meanwhile, while environmental activists have no problem getting media attention, ranchers, going down one at a time, seem to be a non-story.

Canada Free Press founding editor Most recent by Judi McLeod is an award-winning journalist with 30 years experience in the print media. Her work has appeared on, Drudge Report,, Glenn Beck. Judi can be reached at:

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