Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Drama closes Nevada trial: Bundy case defense lawyers stay mute

In a dramatic end to a contentious trial, defense attorneys declined Tuesday to make closing arguments on behalf of four men accused of wielding assault weapons against federal agents in a 2014 standoff near Nevada anti-government figure Cliven Bundy's ranch. The move left defendants Eric Parker, Steven Stewart and Ricky Lovelien of Montana and Oklahoma essentially mute in answer to 10 felony charges including conspiracy, weapon possession and assault on a federal officer. Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre was left Tuesday with nothing to rebut, so he abandoned his plan to have the last word before the jury of eight women and eight men began deliberations. The panel heard five weeks of prosecution testimony. They resume deliberations on Wednesday. Each defendant could face decades in prison if convicted. Myhre and attorneys for Drexler, Parker and Stewart, all of Idaho, each declined outside court to comment. Attorney Shawn Perez, representing Ricky Lovelien of Montana and Oklahoma, said he didn't think the government proved its case, so he felt no closing argument was needed. The jury on Tuesday heard a three-hour recitation by prosecutor Nadia Ahmed of the charges, retrial evidence and instructions from the judge. Ahmed relied heavily on photos and videos showing each defendant carrying an assault-style weapon during the protest to stop a roundup of Bundy family cattle from public rangeland in a vast Gold Butte area that has since been made a national monument. Proving conspiracy is crucial for prosecutors ahead of a next trial, expected later this year, for the Bundy family patriarch, his two eldest sons and two other defendants. They each face 15 charges. Six other defendants, including two other Bundy sons, are slated for trial next year...more

Judge's rulings lead to tense moments in Bundy case in Vegas

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Restrictions placed by a federal judge on what defendants can say about being at Cliven Bundy's ranch in April 2014 are leading to tense moments in the Las Vegas retrial of four men accused of wielding assault-style weapons to stop federal agents from rounding up cattle belonging to the anti-government figure. Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro refused Monday to order a mistrial sought by the defense attorney for Eric Parker, a defendant who Navarro ordered off the witness stand last week before telling the jury to disregard his testimony. Such a dramatic step involving a defendant in the presence of a jury is unusual and might draw scrutiny from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, said Robert Draskovich, a Las Vegas lawyer who said he had never heard of such a move in more than two decades practicing in federal courts. Draskovich is not involved in the Bundy case. Navarro ruled that defendants can't argue this time that they were acting in self-defense or in the defense of other protesters. They can't say they were motivated to drive to southern Nevada from Idaho and Montana after hearing about scuffles involving unarmed Bundy family members and Bureau of Land Management agents using dogs and stun guns. They can't refer to Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and other elected officials criticizing federal agents for creating what the Republican governor called an "atmosphere of intimidation" in the days before the standoff. They can't point to so-called "First Amendment zone" corrals set up for protesters well away from the Bundy ranch; they can't cite claims of infringement on free-speech and Second Amendment rights; and they can't refer to the decades in prison they might face if they're convicted. "Just because law enforcement is pointing a gun doesn't mean you get to point one back," Navarro said Monday...more

Ranch Radio Song of the Day #1899

We’ll slow things down just a little with Rex Allen’s 1955 recording of L-O-N-E-S-O-M-E Letter Blues.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Settlement reached in federal case of Modesto-area farmer fined $2.8 million for plowing his field

Northern California farmer John Duarte spent years fighting the federal government after being fined for plowing over protected wetlands on his property. He attracted a nationwide army of conservative supporters who saw it as government overreach and hoped the Trump administration would order federal officials to back off. But just before his trial was set to start Tuesday, Duarte settled. Duarte became a cause célèbre among property-rights activists, farmers and other conservatives after running afoul of environmental laws in 2012. A judge ruled in 2016 that he violated the “Waters of the United States” provision of the Clean Water Act by “deep ripping” a Tehama County field without a permit. Duarte said he just planted winter wheat, as the previous property owners had done. But government officials said the field hadn’t been plowed in more than two decades, and he needed a permit before tearing up seasonal wetlands known as vernal pools that serve as habitat for plants and animals. Duarte and his allies, including the leader of the American Farm Bureau and Republican members of Congress, called it a classic case of government meddling with agriculture. The Trump administration already has moved to relax the WOTUS rules that the Obama administration had sought to expand, and the congressmen were pressing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to drop the case against Duarte altogether. Despite settling for far less than they were seeking, federal officials said the agreement shows the law must be obeyed...more 

The Pacific Legal Foundation released the following statement: 

  “Duarte Nursery, its president John Duarte, and Pacific Legal Foundation and their co-counsel announce that Duarte Nursery has agreed to a settlement with the United States in the federal government’s nearly five-year enforcement action over Duarte’s routine action of plowing its property to plant wheat in late 2012,” said PLF Senior Attorney Tony Francois, who represents Duarte free of charge.

“Under the agreement, Duarte would admit no liability, pay the government $330,000 in a civil penalty, purchase $770,000 worth of vernal pool mitigation credits, and perform additional work on the site of the plowing.

“This has been a difficult decision for me, my family, and the entire company, and we have come to it reluctantly,” said John Duarte. “But given the risks posed by further trial on the government’s request for up to $45 million in penalties, and the catastrophic impact that any significant fraction of that would have on our business, our hundreds of employees, our customers and suppliers, and all the members of my family, this was the best action I could take to protect those for whom I am responsible.”

“John would have preferred to see this case through to trial and appealed the court’s liability ruling, which holds that plowing a field requires federal permission — despite the clear text of the Clean Water Act and regulations to the contrary,” said Francois. “John and his counsel remain concerned that legal liability for farming without federal permission undermines the clear protections that the Clean Water Act affords to farming and poses a significant ongoing threat to farmers across the nation.”...

An interesting comment...

An interesting comment on my post Farmer Must Defend Plowing His Wheat Field 

I understand Duarte has decided to settle and I will post about that soon.

Anonymous said...

 I walked the neighboring parcels to the north of Duarte's in 2010, when looking to buy, and remember seeing cattle grazing on Duarte's.

First, this parcel and Duarte's were previously going to be covered by 3,500 homes - no CWA concerns over that.

The CWA exemptions include ranching and rotation of crops - forage for grazing is a crop - so being that Duarte's land was grazed since the last time a crop was grown
(1985, I think), it qualifies as an on-going farm use.

-- the neighboring parcel also has only been grazed for that same time period, timeline photos will show back as far as 1998.

-- the cattle owner also told me of the same farming history when I was there.

-- Also, Duarte plowed 4"-7" deep for wheat - if he deep-ripped, the seedlings would never see the light of day.

-- The neighboring parcel has way more vernal pools than Duarte's, yet was allowed to deep-rip without a permit.

-- the neighbor's deep-ripping is highly visible on Google Earth's 2013 photo (Paskenta Rd & Ohm Rd. & Rawson Ave., Red Bluff, CA).

-- also highly visible, is the much greater number of vernal pools of the neighbor's parcels, which show in 2015 & 2010 photos, compared to Duarte's to the south.

-- the neighbor's land is higher in elevation, (about 30 ft), than Duarte's, so any release of 'soil contaminants' are more likely to come from the deep-ripping of neighbor's land.

-- Neighbor also has a seasonal creek that was deep-ripped and goes from north of Ohm Rd., and joins Coyote Creek east of Duarte's parcel, then on through 11 miles of farmland to the Sacramento River - the neighbor's 'deep-ripped creek' can be seen in 2013 photo.

-- in contrast, there were no permits taken by the Rainbow family for the 18"-36" deep potty holes they dug at Malheur forest, nor were they fined for CWA violations, and with 13,00 attendees, they not taken the required permit for groups over 75.

-----and Malheur Nat, Forest has now declared it a health hazard area.

-- Duarte was told that the fifth amendment rights don't apply, unless the government waives impunity.

That would mean all constitutional rights are null and void, unless the government chooses to waive impunity - which it does only for the enviros by cowering down and handing them a check via the EAJA.

-- ironic that the EAJA, created to help individual citizens financially when fighting gov. overreach, has resulted in increased gov. overreach while financially ruining individual citizens.

10 national monuments Trump is most likely to shrink (Guess who's on the list)

View the USA Today list here.

Feds propose to expand hunting, fishing in 10 National Wildlife Refuges

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week proposed to expand hunting and fishing at national wildlife refuges in eight states. Among the changes would be to open two refuges in North Dakota, the 19,500-acre Des Lacs NWR, and 32,000-acre Souris River Basin NWR, to moose hunters for the first time as well as increasing hunting opportunities at refuges in Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina and Wisconsin. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke made the announcement Friday, remarking he was lucky to grow up hunting and fishing and pass the sport to his children. Besides the North Dakota openings, the Savannah River NWR — which straddles Georgia and South Carolina — would see migratory game bird hunting, upland game, and big game hunting expanded as would Minnesota’s Minnesota Valley refuge, and Indiana’s Patoka River NWR. Similar game expansions would take place at both the Horicon and Fox River refuges in Wisconsin. In Oklahoma’s Sequoyah NWR, upland game and big game hunting would be expanded. The Baskett Slough NWR in Oregon would expand their current migratory game bird hunting program while Siletz Bay would open to sport fishing for the first time...more

Farmer Must Defend Plowing His Wheat Field

By Patrick Cavanaugh

John Duarte, a California farmer who gained national attention after the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE or Army Corps) sued him for plowing his Tehama County wheat field, will defend himself in a federal courthouse in Sacramento on Tuesday, August 15. “Agriculture is at a very dire crossroads right now,” said Duarte, imploring all farming stakeholders and food consumers across the country “to get loud with their Senators, Representatives and USACE. And if you know how to get ahold of President Trump, give him a call.” In February 2013, with no warning or opportunity to discuss the matter, USACE sent Duarte a cease and desist letter to suspend farming operations, claiming that he had illegally filled wetlands on his wheat field simply by plowing it. “I am being prosecuted for planting wheat in a wheat field during a global food crisis,” Duarte said. “They’re claiming I should have pulled a [Clean Water Act] permit that nobody has ever pulled and conducted practices that nobody has ever conducted to grow wheat.” Duarte who is also the owner of Duarte Nursery, argues that the Army Corps violated his constitutional right to due process. He said the agency came down on him hard and never gave him an opportunity to defend himself against the accusations before levying the fine. Duarte now faces $2.8 million in government fines. “The Army Corps of Engineers is prosecuting us,” Duarte said, “and the Army Corps does not even have subject matter jurisdiction to conduct this prosecution.” In a June 14, 2017, news release, Tony Francois, senior attorney for Pacific Legal Foundation, explained, “Prosecutors and bureaucrats are seeking to establish, for the first time, that farmers with seasonal puddles need a federal wetlands permit in order to plow their own private land—even though plowing is exempt from Clean Water Act (CWA) coverage.” Duarte believes if he were to lose the upcoming trial, it would change the way farmers in America farm. “This battle may never be resurrected in court. Taking this battle to the Supreme Court on several fronts is the only way to give farmers the long-term security they need, the right to farm and property rights protections, to deliver food security to America.”...more

Ranch Radio Song of the Day #1898

Today we feature the Rouse Brothers (They of Orange Blossom Special fame) and their 1938 recording of Bum Bum Blues.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Floyd Traynor by Ron Secor

Months after Dakota Access protests, Dallas' Energy Transfer Partners faces barriers at many turns

After a bruising 2016, there was hope that 2017 would help one of the nation's largest pipeline builders dig out from the heap of national outrage triggered by the controversy over its Dakota Access pipeline. With a light-touch regulatory attitude in Washington, D.C., under President Donald Trump's business-friendly administration, stars had aligned for Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners to turn the corner. Yet, with a little over four months left on the calendar, billionaire Kelcy Warren's empire that owns at least 71,000 miles of pipelines is still trying to emerge from the chaos. Some of the company’s biggest projects still face state and federal regulatory roadblocks after spills and other environmental hiccups. Trump introduced a new wrinkle by saying pipelines should be built with U.S. steel. And, the Dakota Access — the 1,172-mile pipeline transporting oil from North Dakota to Illinois — is back in court. Warren, Energy Transfer's chairman and CEO, was not available for an interview request for this report. But he told The Dallas Morning News in January that Dakota protesters "assassinated the company and me."..more

Sage grouse conservation changes praised by some

President Donald Trump’s administration has opened the door to industry-friendly changes to a sweeping plan imposed by his predecessor to protect a ground-dwelling bird across vast areas of the West. Wildlife advocates warn that the proposed changes would undercut a hard-won struggle to protect the greater sage grouse. Representatives of the ranching and energy industries cheered the policy shift as needed to give states flexibility. A document outlining the recommended changes was released last week by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. It recognized for the first time the importance of livestock grazing on sage grouse habitat, said Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. It also backed away from requirements to keep rangeland grasses and shrubs at a prescribed minimum height, which ranchers had complained was arbitrary. “I was very pleased with what I saw there in terms of the tone,” Magagna said. The proposed changes, the result of a 60-day review of the plan by Zinke’s agency, could give states wiggle room in areas such as setting population goals for sage grouse and drawing boundaries of recognized sage grouse habitat...more

Massive wildfires turned prairies to ash, leading Montana’s cowboys to weigh federal help

In this part of Montana’s rugged eastern prairie, Erwin Weder and the other ranchers and cowboys are not used to feeling kicked around. But as Weder drives his pickup truck onto a bluff to gaze out over “Big Sky Country,” he feels a bit defeated. Hundreds of miles of meadows and scrub grass that feed tens of thousands of beef cattle are gone, replaced by the charred soil and smoldering prairie dog burrows that the state’s largest wildfire in nearly three decades has left behind. But after the massive multimillion-dollar firefight, another battle has emerged in the wide open spaces where there is often distrust of the government: What should the federal role be in helping Montana’s livestock industry respond to, and recover from, the blaze. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) originally rejected Montana’s request for assistance, a process that ranchers say left them feeling forgotten and misunderstood by Washington. Now, many in this deeply conservative region are weighing their wariness about bureaucrats against their need for help. “We lost 70 percent of our grass, which means 70 percent of our revenue,” said Weder , 41, who is trying to locate hundreds of cattle that scattered as the flames tore across his 65,000-acre ranch. “I don’t think people truly understand what an acre of grass is worth to us . . . and the millions of dollars that will be lost over the next few years.” Local officials across the United States worry that it is becoming more difficult to secure help from FEMA for all sorts of natural disasters. Since January, members of Congress and state officials have protested initial FEMA denials following a tornado outbreak in Louisiana, flooding in North Carolina, and snowstorms in Pennsylvania and Oregon. The Trump administration has been hinting that it might limit federal spending on disaster relief and preparation, and FEMA is considering whether to draft regulations to shift more responsibility for rebuilding to the states. The creation of “disaster deductibles” — which states would have to exhaust before FEMA offers federal assistance — was first proposed under the Obama administration...more

Ranch Radio Song of the Day #1897

 Its Swingin’ Monday and we feature Grady Martin & His Slew Foot Five with their 1955 recording of Slip In and Slip Out.