A group of Nevada ranchers set out on horseback Friday from Bodega Bay on a cross-country ride to raise awareness for what they say is government overreach by agents who this summer removed cattle from federal lands.

The Grass March Cowboy Express group left from Doran Beach on the Sonoma County coast at 7 a.m. with plans to make it to Lodi by the end of the day. The group included nine riders and 11 horses with at least one rider on horseback at a time. The rest of the team followed in two trucks with horse trailers, switching riders and horses every 5 miles.

The group’s goal is to ride to Washington, D.C., and then to Annapolis, Md., on the Chesapeake Bay, in three weeks, said organizer Kate Jones, whose family owns a cattle ranch near Elko in northeast Nevada. She said that the Bureau of Land Management has ordered Nevada ranchers to remove their cattle from federal lands.

“We’re riding for our rights as U.S. citizens to be able to ranch and farm without over-regulation,” she said. “The BLM cannot be overrunning private citizens. This happens in every state.”

A spokesman for the BLM in Nevada said that the agency has closed some of the land it manages in order to protect plant species during a three-year drought that has hit the western United States. The land on which members of the Cowboy Express group has grazing permits was partially closed, but some areas remain open, Rudy Evenson said.

“The drought has taken a toll on everyone,” he said. “To protect the range for the future, we need to cut back on grazing. Most ranchers in Nevada have no problem with that.”

The group’s cause is similar to that of Cliven Bundy, the southern Nevada rancher whose long-running dispute with the BLM over grazing fees became an armed standoff this spring when militia groups and tea party activists gathered outside his ranch. Jones said her group is not affiliated with Bundy, but sympathizes with his cause.

“We do feel for his situation,” she said. “He’s not involved with us.”

The group’s planned route takes mostly back roads through Sonoma County in order to minimize traffic problems. The riders are progressing at a trot of about 7 to 10 mph, Jones said. They do not have a law enforcement escort.

The CHP had not received any complaints about the riders’ blocking traffic by Friday evening, Sgt. Dave Derczo said. In such an event, officers would have told the riders to pull to the side of the road to allow traffic to pass, he said.

Before taking a turn in the saddle on Friday, Eddyann Filippini, whose family has grazed cattle in Nevada since 1890, said that the group was riding for others who have felt infringed upon by the government.

“We’re trying to bring to light the fact that government regulation without representation is tyranny,” she said. “We’re fighting for our lives and to give farmers and ranchers leverage to stand up for their rights.”

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com.