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The Establishment of the Battle Mountain Grazing District in South-Central Nevada, 1947-1951

The Battle Mountain District was the last district in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to be established. The Battle Mountain District is actually the Nevada (N) - 6 grazing district and was legally formed in 1951. Like all BLM Districts in Nevada, the Battle Mountain District’s origin was tied to the passage of the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934.

During the years prior to becoming a grazing district, many relevant discussions and negotiations took place between the BLM and the local ranchers. During that time, area ranchers held a series of public hearings to determine whether or not to form a grazing district. Failure to do so would have resulted in all of the public land in central Nevada being designated as leasable to grazing under Section 15 of the Taylor Grazing Act. The dilemma facing the ranchers was either to form a district and accept increased federal regulation or face the reduced protections to their grazing operations resulting from leasing under Section 15. The following is a historical account of the major events that took place leading to the establishment of the N-6 Grazing District and subsequently the formation of the Battle Mountain District.

After considering the matter for more than a year, livestock operators in the region met in Tonopah on December 4, 1948, where they voted 48 to 6 in favor of a grazing district. The lopsided margin by which local ranchers approved the formation of what became Nevada Grazing District 6, though, is somewhat deceiving. Later documents indicated that the majority of stockmen in the area remained “opposed to any form of range regulation” and only “accepted the district as the lesser of two evils,” since they believed that “leasing was definitely not applicable” to the area.

The opposition to the establishment of District 6 did not cease with the December
1948 vote in favor of creating the district. Ranchers in Nye, Lander, Eureka, Esmeralda, and Lincoln counties argued that much of the unregulated grazing land in the area was “absolutely useless for grazing purposes.” Because of this, many claimed that there was “no reason in the world” why the federal government should force them to accept federal regulation. Others worried that, once a grazing district was formed and grazing fees were implemented, they would be “forced out of business.” The approval of a grazing district also reflected the acknowledgement that, while Section 15 leases “would have ensured less oversight,” grazing permits established under the 1934 law “were far more secure in the long term.

While opposition to the creation of District 6 clearly existed throughout the 1930s and 1940s, historical evidence also indicates that some south-central Nevada stockmen actually favored the increased federal regulation offered by the Taylor Grazing Act. In spite of ongoing opposition to grazing district formation throughout this period, some ranchers in the Nye County region submitted a petition in 1940 asking for their organization to become part of a grazing district. Writing in May 1947, then BLM Director Fred Johnson recalled that “the livestock men of the state” had voted “overwhelmingly in favor of placing the entire state in grazing districts” during the January 1935 meetings pertaining to the initial formation of grazing districts in Nevada. Interestingly, most of the ranchers in what is now the Battle Mountain District did not favor becoming a district.

Irrespective of the views favoring or opposing the creation of District 6, on February 9, 1951, BLM Director Marion Clawson published a notice establishing the district—the last such district created under the Taylor Grazing Act. As originally established, the district’s boundaries encompassed roughly 7.37 million acres of public lands located primarily in Nye, Lander, and Eureka counties. While responses to the creation of District 6 were mixed, they included a heavy dose of opposition from those who had long opposed federal regulation of the area’s public lands.

Among the “barrage of letters” received by the Interior Department in the wake of Clawson’s February 1951 order were communications from Nevada Governor Charles Russell, Nevada Congressman Walter Baring, and Central Nevada Stockmen’s Association President Richard Magee, all of whom strongly opposed the establishment of District 6. Each of these letters called on the secretary to take necessary action such that “the organization of the district be stopped.” In his responses, Secretary of the Interior Oscar Chapman assured each correspondent that he had considered “all the factors” affecting the issue and had concluded that, “once the district was established and in operation the stockmen using it would be much better satisfied with the conditions, and the stability of their operations would be greatly enhanced.” He then outlined the
“guiding principles” that led to the creation of District 6.

Secretary Chapman further stated that information indicated that there was an urgent need for supervision of the use of the area not only to prevent overgrazing but also to provide for proper range development and improvement contemplated under the Taylor Grazing Act.

During the 1960s and 1970s, protests against federal regulation of grazing lands increased exponentially, both in Nevada and throughout the West, in response to the rise of multiple-use policies that increasingly governed public lands. Congress’s passage of the Classification and Multiple Use Act in 1964 and the 1976 Federal Land Policy Management Act engendered ever more stringent opposition to federal regulation of public-domain grazing lands, leading to the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion. The Sagebrush Rebellion, particularly within the Battle Mountain District, was initially sparked by the rise of these multiple-use policies in the 1960s and 1970s which continued to inform much of the discussion surrounding grazing-land management in the West, even up to the present day.

Today, the Battle Mountain District encompasses over 10.5 million acres of public land and consists of a district office and two field offices. This evolution was due in part to an administrative change in the jurisdictional boundaries which occurred in the 1970s that resulted in much of southern Nye county and all of Esmeralda County being reassigned from the Las Vegas District to the Battle Mountain District.