BLM Range Whistleblower and Potential Risks of Bundy-Phobia

he Rio Grand River flows on Feb. 16, 2022, near Monte Vista. RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

The Denver Post had an intriguing story  about a BLM whistleblower:

Melissa Shawcroft, who has been a BLM rangeland management specialist since 1992, is facing a two-week unpaid suspension after her supervisor disciplined her over discourteous emails and a failure to follow rules. Shawcroft is arguing that the discipline is retaliation for her insistence that the Bureau take action to stop area ranchers from trespassing by allowing their livestock to graze on BLM property without permits.

The illegal grazing has gone unchecked for years on the nearly 250,000 acres she manages and her pleas for enforcement, which must be authorized by her supervisors, have gone unheeded, she said. Shawcroft has documented damage to the land and riverbanks and has heard repeated complaints from ranchers who pay to use BLM land.

The way the above sentence is written it sounds as if illegal grazing has gone on on all 250K acres. This seems unlikely.

“I’m sick and tired of them telling me it’s my job to solve the problem when I don’t have the authority to do it,” Shawcroft told The Denver Post. “I jabbed at them and they fired back.”

The Bureau has the power to impound livestock or levy fines, but managers are timid because they fear another armed standoff similar to the ones led by the Bundy family in Oregon and Nevada, Shawcroft said. In 2014 in Nevada, Cliven Bundy, his family and an armed militia organized a standoff with federal agents who had come to round up the rancher’s cows that were illegally grazing on federal land.

“They come right out and tell me we don’t want another Bundy situation,” Shawcroft said.

Steven Hall, the BLM’s Rocky Mountain communications director, said the agency does not comment on personnel issues, but the agency takes unauthorized grazing seriously and is adopting measures to better enforce the rules, he said.

Under federal law, livestock may graze on Bureau of Land Management property when a rancher holds a permit authorizing the land use. Permits are passed down through families and rarely become available for purchase.

The permits determine how many cattle, sheep or horses a rancher can place on federal land and which months the animals are allowed to feed on it. Those rules protect the land from overgrazing and give grass, brush and water time to recover throughout the year.

Shawcroft manages rangeland along the Rio Grande River where property on the east side is private and cows and horses are crossing the river to the federally-owned Rio Grande Natural Area on the west side, she said.

If it’s true that BLM managers said that.. is Bundyism (fear of armed conflict) a real thing, or an excuse?  Reminds me a bit of the FS claiming escaped prescribed burns were due to climate change.  Bundys are a thing. Climate change is a thing.  But both things can also be used as excuses for not doing better.  When we read these things, we need to think about which is which.

Interestingly, the ones who are most irritated are .. other ranchers.. who apparently are not going All Bundy on the law-breakers.

Area ranchers who pay for the permits are complaining that law-breakers are ruining the land for their livestock. It’s such a problem that “chronic livestock trespass” was on the June agenda for the BLM’s Rocky Mountain Resource Advisory Council meeting.

At that meeting, Dario Archuleta, the acting field manager for the BLM’s San Luis Valley field office, said there is a “fine-tuned administrative process they believe will be vastly more effective than the criminal approach,” according to minutes from the meeting.

Archuleta told the meeting’s attendees that the process for impounding livestock is lengthy and complicated and that courts have been lenient on violators.

The BLM has assigned up to 14 employees to address unauthorized grazing through site visits that require a minimum five-hour time commitment, including travel, Hall told The Denver Post.

The agency also has implemented a new GIS tracking tool to collect data such as identifying livestock and the improved documentation has resulted this year in trespass notices being issued, Hall said.

Shawcroft is represented in her complaint by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a non-profit that works with public employees who want to point out government wrongdoing.


The Bureau of Land Management named Shawcroft its range management specialist of the year in 2012 and she’s only had one other disciplinary action taken in her 31-year career, Jeff Ruch, PEER’s Pacific director said.

“She doesn’t mince words and apparently some of her male supervisors took offense,” Ruch said. “The idea that you’re being hit with a heavy sanction when you use words like ‘gumption’ in an email strikes me as an overreaction.”

Now, having been involved in a variety of different personnel difficulties, I am sympathetic to everyone involved, and especially the HR and Labor Relations who I’m sure are trying to sort things out. I wonder what the maleness of (some) supervisors has to do with it. Perhaps this is intended to imply that male employees can get away with more acerbic statements? Curious.

Here’s what PEER says:

On July 28, 2023, Melissa was served with a proposed 14-day suspension without pay for a series of four emails dating back to December 2022 in which she expressed consternation at BLM’s hands-off posture on grazing trespass. In one email, she questioned the agency’s lack of “gumption” and in another whether the agency would “live up to the task of taking care of our resources.” For those emails, she is charged with “discourteous” behavior.

IF this is all it is.. I would say I have read many snarkier emails in the FS about FS activities. On the other hand, when it comes to personnel issues, there are at least two sides to every story.


12 thoughts on “BLM Range Whistleblower and Potential Risks of Bundy-Phobia”

  1. The true cause of the Bundy fiasco was based on ideologically driven BLM managers who prefer ranchers over the environment. They refused to use their authority to enforce the rules, laws and guidelines so often and for so long that when they were finally forced to do so Bundy was able to mobilize an armed criminal gang to protest what should of been routine enforcement, because as far as Bundy’s ilk was concerned enforcement never happened and to do so was unprecedented.

    Had those land managers that fomented the Bundy protests for decades been fired in a way that they were deliberately exposed to civil lawsuits from enviro groups for their inaction you can bet every supervisor hired after them would be afraid of ruining their career and would enforce grazing tresspass because of fear of what happened to the last people that enabled the Bundy crime spree by failing to enforce grazing tresspass.

    Of course we’ve all seen the documentation of a chronic problem with dismantled barriers that were supposed to keep cows away from sensitive areas and nothing changed in regards to enforcement after Bundy. The BLM supervisors with authority to enforce grazing trespass continue to refuse to enforce and they don’t get fired for failing to do their job.

    All the while this evidence of systemic malfeascence regularly makes its way into the courts and has been helpful at shutting down the most egregious of grazing plans. What’s more, the ecological impacts of tresspass grazing are well documented and its just a matter of time before this slow rolling simmer of corruption on public lands start boiling over and a judge shuts them down and we have the next Bundy-like protest.

    As in laws that are not enforced no longer are valid laws in the minds of the people with guns who think they take over public land and get away with it. The employees who refuse to enforce those laws need to be fired and dragged into court for the criminals they continue to be.

  2. I saw this yesterday and was wondering if you were going to post it. I am familiar with the situation and I know both Mellisa and Dario. I didn’t know Dario was back in the San Luis Valley. Once upon a time I worked for both the Rio Grande NF and the BLM SLV Field Office working under a Service First agreement.

    I believe your suspicion, Sharon, of 250,000 ac being an overstatement is correct. Most of the problem is occurring along the Rio Grande corridor within the Rio Rio Grande Natural Area. Not only is there a trespass cattle situation that has been going on for decades, there is a feral horse issue. People like to dump off their unwanted horses in the area and they have become feral. Both problems have led to overgrazing and made it difficult to restore the riparian vegetation along the Rio Grande where the SW willow flycatcher nests. I think I heard there was a feral horse roundup after I retired, but I’m not sure what impact that had on the total population.

    Melissa has done everything she can within her powers to deal with both issues and she has brought the problems up to her superiors many, many times. There have been a variety of attempts of dealing with the situation. I’m guessing Melissa has had enough. Melissa doesn’t mince words, doesn’t back down and is very dedicated to conserving the resource. Quite frankly, I’m proud of her for going whistle-blower on this.

    Dario was a field going employee for the RGNF and then the BLM SLVFO for many years. He finally left his lifelong home and took a promotion. He is more familiar with the northern part of the SLV than the southern part, where this issue is taking place. This has got to be quite a challenge for him and I wish him the best. He has a giant heart.

    As for ranchers going “Bundy”… I don’t know the individuals involved, but I don’t think they are organized enough to get enough people willing to grab their guns and take a stand to go full on “Bundy.” But, there are many individuals in the San Luis Valley willing to resort to violence and that is scary enough to make bureaucrats hesitant to go as far as rounding up cattle and impounding them.

    • So a well documented chronic problem with grazing trespass on all federal BLM lands is somehow magically just a problem within the Rio Grande Natural Area because a government whistleblower is not pointing out something significant and systemic? Seriously? Do you really think all the ranchers with federal grazing allotments are only a problem in one specific conservation area?

      And yes, I totally agree that the Bundy monsters aren’t organized enough or informed enough to be willing “grab their guns and take a stand,” but when you have high ranking leadership in the BLM egging them on to further a pro-grazing agenda in protected areas by not enforcing the boundaries and then giving up on an enforcement action and releasing the rounded up cattle to “deescalate” you’re putting that armed insurrection on a pedestal.

      By doing that it became inevitable that this mob of armed gunmen who fought off the enforcement action at the Bundy ranch (risking the very lives of federal law enforcement officers) would not deescalate, but continue to escalate/rolled out the red carpet for the armed occupation 2 years later in Oregon in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

      Again, the ideologically driven higher ups in the BLM who refuse to enforce rules, laws and guidelines are all too happy to celebrate the “success” of what the Bundy family did and those people need to be exposed in a way that those who take their place will never be that unlawful again when it comes to doing their job.

      • Howdy Deane,
        Have you ever worked for the BLM or another government agency to understand how things actually work, “higher ups” versus the people doing the actual work?

    • Mike, I was hoping you would weigh in as our SLV correspondent.. thank you!

      I know that the FS also has problems with trespass cattle and involving people appropriately and yet getting something done. Note the Gov of NM’s quote here:
      “New Mexico’s governor has stepped into the fight over how federal land managers are eradicating wild cows in the Gila Wilderness.

      Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a statement Friday saying she was disappointed by what she described as the U.S. Forest Service’s lack of meaningful, long-term engagement with stakeholders on a controversial issue.

      The Forest Service is currently conducting an aerial shooting operation to kill as many as 150 “unauthorized” cows in a vast area of steep rugged valleys and mountainsides blanketed with trees.”

      In that case it sounds like a lawsuit from CBD was involved… perhaps they will sure in this case?

      • Perhaps CBD will get involved along with the SLV Ecosystem Council. The SLVEC doesn’t have a lot of money, but they have the local knowledge and contacts, and have partnered with larger environmental groups in lawsuits in the past. I’m curious if SLVEC has become involved. I may have to call the director….

        The BLM has tried to work with the landowners on the east side of the Rio Grande including through the planning process for the Rio Grande Natural Area. If I remember correctly, federal lands managed by the BLM extend under the river to the high water mark on the east side of the river. In theory, the BLM could build a fence on that side, but I would guess the fence wouldn’t last long as the private landowners want their cattle to have access to the water.

        The BLM has constructed some exclosures on the west side of the river and the riparian vegetation responded quickly without any planting. I’m sure enlarging those have been discussed and they would if it was feasible. One thing the exclosures showed beyond any doubt is if the cattle and feral horses can be kept out of the riparian zone along the river, the area will flourish.

        • As an open range state, the onus is on Colorado landowners to fence cattle out. That being said, Colorado’s open range statute does not excuse cattle trespass on federal land, i.e., federal law (e.g., Taylor Grazing Act) trumps state law. However, if a federal agency is willing to tolerate, excuse, or look the other way when it comes to trespass, there’s little legal recourse to protect the public’s interests in our lands. The hardest thing to compel is sensible discretionary action on the part of lazy and/or incompetent bureaucrats.

  3. I have roughly 20 miles of private property boundary, about 1/3rd shared with the federal government. I have neighbors who steal from me, trespass, poach, don’t fix fence or spray weeds, lie to me, lie about me, and are just an overall nuisance and none of them are as bad as having the Forest Service as a neighbor.

    Unless you’ve been on the receiving end of a government employee(s) wrath and use of the power of the federal government as a wrecking ball to satisfy their personal ideology or grudge, you don’t even have the capacity to understand what it involves or how devastating it can be to individuals and families.

    Bundyism? How about the USFS crime syndicate or “green mafia”?

      • Sorry. Nothing to fit your “cattlemen are bad actors” narrative. Actually quite the contrary.

        Short story?

        It originated when I was given a head coaching job over a USFS employee who developed a sore rear end over it and decided to make our lives miserable on a piece of deeded ground that we leased for conservation/restoration purposes, including grazing, and that was surrounded by federal land. Over about a decade, we experienced pretty much constant harassment from a slew of federal employees, including law enforcement, involving such things as clear cuts around our boundary and refusal to clean it up or allow us to, threats to impound our cattle even when they weren’t on the Forest (only stopped by our local sheriff), multiple agencies–including USFS–and multiple incidents of trespass (including multiple times that they were directly denied permission for access), illegal monitoring of irrigation diversions on private land after they were denied permission, cutting off our irrigation water for six years even though the rights predated the Forest, threats of federal arrest and fines (even though we had emails stating that they didn’t have any evidence but wanted to make an example out of me), permit denials, and on and on and on and on.

        The entire time, multiple environmental groups–including the nature conservancy–were trying to purchase the property but the landowners wouldn’t sell it to them while I still had the lease/option. Things got really bad when the Forest brought in–perhaps only coincidentally–a former TNC employee as the Forest Supervisor. During the Malheur Refuge protest, Fox News asked that I do a live TV interview because what I had gone through and what I was going through had so many parallels to the Hammonds. I refused for a number of reasons that I thought important at the time. In hindsight, I wish I’d done it.

        The culmination of all of it was that it cost me an unbelievable amount of money, I lost the property, had to sell almost all our cattle and one of the members of the environmental industrial complex bought it for a play toy/fundraiser.

        I was a practicing professional biologist–including as the district fish bio for this same Forest– for over 25 years before I bought my first cow. What my family accomplished on this property was remarkable, what the agencies and NGOs did was outrageous and they got away with all of it–just like they almost always do. But if you haven’t experienced anything like this personally, you can’t hardly believe it. Fortunately, as a scientist and former government employee, I document and save nearly everything. It may only matter to me, but someday I’ll write it up and at least put the true story out there if for no other reason than the next person it happens to can at least sympathize.

        • Shaun, I know exactly what you mean in terms of “document and save almost everything”. I hope you do write it up.. we (that is, people, government agencies, NGO’s) need to be accountable for when things go off the rails and learn from our mistakes. We can’t do that if the mistreated are silent. But I also know what it’s like to be tired of the whole thing, and not want to go through those old depressing emails and memories, even thought my experience was certainly not as bad nor prolonged as yours.

          I also think there is a tendency among us to not want to go to places like Fox News.. but at the same time, some stories are not being told by other media, so the stories don’t get out at all.. and that’s a problem, in my view. For example, the only outlet that was interested in Tony Tooke’s misbehavior at first was the Daily Caller.

          In our humble world, I hope that TSW would help with that..but things need to get out more broadly than just us, for sure.

          I’m sorry about what you went through. I also know some reporters who might be interested in your story.

        • Now I’d like to hear the other side of the story, but I know there are arrogant bureaucrats who would abuse the power of their position. Thanks for sharing.


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