A Brush with Death

Green extremists worked to destroy my family’s ranch. And a potentially deadly act of mechanical sabotage remains unexplained.

In addition to my work as a rancher, I am a published author. I have been writing for many years, but this is the most difficult writing I’ve ever done. The story of how environmental extremists and government agencies both worked to destroy my family’s ranch is hard to put into words. But nonetheless, it’s a story that needs to be heard.

At a permittee meeting in Boise some years ago, Jon Marvel, founder of the environmentalist group, Western Watersheds Project (WWP), made a presentation about what he wanted the Trout Springs Allotment, which I grazed, to look like. He described, as an example, land where the riparian and uplands were in harmony with the environment. When Marvel finished, I told him how much I enjoyed his presentation because that was my private land, not BLM land. I concluded, “If BLM would let me manage my Trout Springs allotment the way it should be managed, in 10 years it would look just like that and without added expense to the taxpayers.”

When the meeting closed, Marvel told me, “This was your day,” with a tone of voice that felt threatening. He followed me to my car with Dr. Chad Gibson, my mother and my wife as witnesses, pointed his finger about an inch from my chest and warned, “Whatever it takes to get rid of you and your cows!” I asked, “How should I take that Jon?” He replied, “However you want.”

From that point on, strange things began to happen. Livestock gates were opened, fences were cut, and then I was falsely reported for trespassing. The summer of 2008 was a nightmare. One day I saw Marvel’s assistant on the allotment and asked her who the people with her were. She told me they were her volunteers. “Are these the ones opening the gates and cutting my fences?” I asked. She didn’t answer.

Things escalated even further. One day I took my pickup to nearby Juniper Mountain to ride for cattle. I left the pickup attached to the trailer which was lawfully parked on some federal land. The next morning, I unhooked the trailer. My wife and I took off in the pickup. As we came to the Highway 95 junction west of Marsing, Idaho, I stepped on the brake to disengage the cruise control. It didn’t budge. “I’m going to have to make the turn,” I told my wife. Linda shouted, “Don’t, you’ll roll it … nobody’s coming.” We shot through the intersection with me stomping on the pedal. It gave eventually, and I regained control.

When I took my truck to a mechanic, they found a welding rod positioned to fall and stop the pedal from being engaged. In other words, it had been sabotaged. We had the police check it out, but no charges were ever filed. While we were unable to prove who was responsible, we had our suspicions.

It didn’t stop there. Soon after, WWP filed an injunction to stop me from grazing on the Trout Springs Allotment, and they succeeded. Marvel told me they had filed the injunction to remove my cattle from Trout Springs as close to my moving date as possible so that it would be impossible for me to find an alternative place to graze. I asked him who “they” were, but he didn’t answer. He was no doubt disappointed when he learned that I had leased pasture on the nearby South Mountain Allotment and taken my cattle there.

Sadly, Marvel and his gang weren’t my only enemies. The year before, the BLM had burned trees in the South Mountain Allotment, destroying the boundary fence. My son fixed our portion of the assigned boundary, but the BLM did not repair theirs, although they said they would since they had destroyed it.

Because they weren’t fenced in, my cattle—as well as other ranchers’ cows—went into the neighboring Upper Cliffs Allotment, which was closed to grazing at the time. The BLM charged me with trespass, but the agency did not charge the other ranchers. My grazing permit was cancelled in 2009. I appealed but my appeal was unsuccessful, sadly. Even worse, it seems I made myself a target of the agency’s bureaucrats.

At that point I figured it was time to pass the ranch along to the next generation. So, in 2013, I transferred my private land to my daughter and son-in-law, John and Martha Corrigan. Although my permit was gone, the underlying grazing preference for the permit was still attached to our private land, which meant my daughter and son-in-law were first in line to receive a new permit.

The BLM agreed that John and Martha were fully qualified to receive a grazing permit but refused to give them one. Why? Because the agency said our grazing preference somehow disappeared automatically without any notice back in 2009.

The agency had never done this to a rancher before, despite the permit/preference system being in place for 80 years. In reality, I was being punished for standing up to the BLM’s mismanagement of the public lands. They had marked me as a target. With the stroke of a pen, our fourth-generation ranching operation died thanks to a technicality invented by BLM, who wanted to make an example of me.

The BLM bureaucrats finished what Marvel and the other radical green activists at WWP had started. Almost overnight, they stole what we had worked so hard to build. My family and I have been used as a pawn to destroy the ranching culture and heritage that we have worked all our lives to pass along.

My family has filed an appeal in an effort to win back our grazing rights. Property rights are a sacred guarantee of our Constitution. But my story should be a sober warning to everyone. Mountain States Legal Foundation came to my family’s defense, and its work must continue. We need a strong defense of property rights in this country. After all, if the government can wipe out my property rights with the stroke of a pen, they could do the same to you.

Mike Hanley is a rancher, author, and artist working
and living near the Oregon/Idaho boarder. MSLF represents his family in the case Corrigan v. Bernhardt

MSLF attorney Brian Gregg (right) with Mike Hanley, who passed the ranch down to his daughter and son-in-law, John and Martha Corrigan.
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