Widely varied opinions as rancher reclaims cattle confiscated from Nevada rangelands

The modern day rangeland war saga continues.

Media on all levels have been covering the highly controversial roundup of a Nevada rancher’s cattle on Bureau of Land Management as tension between cattlemen, and the landowners, this time the federal government, intensified, not completely unlike range wars of the late 1800s, though no shooting or deaths were reported.

It is certainly a two sided issue, and either’s innocence or guilt, most likely a division of each, will be longtime in determining.

A 20-year legal dispute between the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and cattle rancher Cliven Bundy in southeastern Nevada over unpaid grazing fees eventually developed into an armed confrontation between protesters and law enforcement, wire service stories verify.

Contending that after years of repeated violations of multiple court orders, the BLM earlier this month began rounding up Bundy’s cattle that were trespassing on the land, according to the government officials.

The dispute evidently began in 1993 when Bundy refused to pay assessed bills to the government for his cattle supposedly grazing on federal lands near Bunkerville, Nevada.

Bundy was eventually prohibited from grazing his cattle on the land through an order issued in 1998, by the United States District Court for the District of Nevada.

BLM officials contend Bundy grazed his cattle legally on an area of federal land near Bunkerville prior to 1993, but when grazing rules were changed in the Gold Butte, Nevada, area, in Clark County, he became entangled in legal battles with the government.

It is claimed that Bundy has since accumulated more than $1 million of debt in unpaid grazing fees, and that he has refused to pay the statements.

Courts ruled that the land on which Bundy was grazing his cattle was indeed owned by the federal government, that he had not been paying to use it as he should have been, that Bundy and his cattle were trespassing, and that the government had the right to enforce the injunctions against trespassing.

Cattle expanded into additional public lands over the years, and court orders allowed the United States to protect the land from Bundy, and to seize any of his cattle that remained in those areas.

The Bureau of Land Management manages 167 million acres of publicly owned rangeland, with the U. S. Forest Service responsible for 95 million acres.

Ranchers grazing cattle on federal rangelands are required to pay a fee, while the permit cannot exceed 10 years, it is renewable, and can be revoked due to severe drought or disasters that deplete grazing lands.

Grazing rules for the land went through changes over the years, including some updated grazing rules in 1993, in the Gold Butte and Bunkerville land area of Nevada. Currently, there are no grazing permits on the Bunkerville allotment, and any livestock on that land are there illegally.

Bundy owns land previously considered base property, and paid permit fees prior to 1993 for grazing on the nearby Bunkerville Allotment area. Bundy asserts that the terms of land use changes in 1993 reduced his allowed cattle by 90 percent, capping it to about 150 animals.

The Cliven Bundy family runs one of the few cattle ranches remaining in the Bunkerville area. Bundy has claimed that he inherited “pre-emptive grazing rights” on the federal land, because his ancestors had kept cattle in the valley since 1877, and that grazing rules infringe on his states’ rights.

However, there appear to be no records of any inherited grazing rights, pre-emptive rights, special rights, or grandfathered federal land use rights by the Bundy family or Bundy’s ancestors, and Bundy lost on all his arguments regarding states’ rights and jurisdictional dispute in court.

The BLM was tasked with environmental assessment and various enforcement issues regarding the cattle trespass injunctions. During March–April 2014, it closed some areas of government lands during the planning for roundup of the trespass cattle owned by Bundy.

In early April, officials said, “Just before the roundup got underway, a survey conducted by helicopter counted 908 head of cattle scattered across roughly 1,200 square miles of remote mountains and desert managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.”

BLM officials stated: “Cattle have been in trespass on public lands in southern Nevada for more than two decades. This is unfair to the thousands of other ranchers who graze livestock in compliance with federal laws and regulations throughout the West.

“The Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service have made repeated attempts to resolve this matter administratively and judicially. An impoundment of cattle illegally grazing on public lands is now being conducted as a last resort.”

Government contractors riding horses and a small helicopter succeeded in penning almost 400 trespass cattle from April 5 to 9, 2014.

According to state brand inspectors, almost 90 percent of the cattle rounded up bore Bundy’s brand. Of the remaining animals, five belonged to a neighboring rancher, four were marked with brands that couldn’t be read, and the rest were unmarked livestock.

Armed individuals and private militia members from across the United States joined peaceful protesters against the trespass cattle roundup.

BLM enforcement agents were dispatched in response to what was seen as threatening statements by Bundy, such as calling the events a “range war.” There was no armed battle, and no shots were fired in the incident.

On April 8, 2014, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval issued a statement, calling for the removal of First Amendment restrictions he described as offensive.

After stating that peaceful protests had crossed into illegal activity, the federal agencies allowed protesters to go anywhere on the public land as long as they were peaceful.

On the morning of April 12, a heavily armed crowd rallied under a banner that read “Liberty Freedom For God We Stand.”

Camouflaged militiamen stood at attention, communicating with earpieces. Most had signs, many of which chided “government thugs”.

Addressing the protestors, Bundy said, “We definitely don’t recognize the BLM director’s jurisdiction or authority, his arresting power or policing power in any way, and we’re about ready to take the country over with force”.

Armed protesters blocked a portion of Interstate 15 for more than two hours causing traffic backups for three miles in both directions. Protesters also converged at the mouth of Gold Butte, the preserve where the cattle were corralled, and a tense, hour-long standoff ensued.

Las Vegas Metro Deputy Chief Tom Roberts defused the situation by announcing that Bundy’s cattle would be returned within 30 minutes. The BLM announced that it would suspend the mass roundup, citing safety reasons.

Clark County Sheriff Gillespie mediated the agreement between the Bundy family and the BLM, saying, “When a group of protesters threaten civil unrest or violence in this county, it is my job to step in and ensure the safety of citizens.”

BLM Director Neil Kornze said, “Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather, because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public.”

BLM spokesman Craig Leff stated, “The gather is over, but the agency plans to seek a solution administratively and judicially, and intends to pursue court action to collect more than $1 million in back grazing fee owed by Bundy.

“The door isn’t closed. We’ll figure out how to move forward with this. The BLM and National Park Service did not cut any deal or negotiate anything.”

Las Vegas police stated that business owners in Mesquite had received threats because of the conflict.

Sandoval again sided with Bundy saying: “No cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans. The BLM needs to reconsider its approach to this matter and act accordingly.”

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, said, “I told Neil Kornze very clearly that law-abiding Nevadans must not be penalized by an over-reaching BLM. Emotions and tensions are still near the boiling point.”

Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, said, “It’s time for Nevada to stand up to the federal government and demand the return of the BLM lands to the people of Nevada.”

Nevada’s Senior Senator to the United States Congress, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stated, “Well, it’s not over. We can’t have an American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it. So, it’s not over.”

The Bundy family claimed victory on having its cattle returned. 

Bundy said, “I don’t have a response for Harry Reid, but I have a response for every county sheriff across the United States. Disarm the federal bureaucrats.”

Some of Bundy’s neighbors aren’t impressed by his actions.

“I feel that the rule of law supersedes armed militias coming in from all over the country to stand with a law-breaking rancher, which is what he is” said Elaine Hurd, of Mesquite.

Roger Taylor, a retired BLM district manager in Arizona, said, “The agency is going to be in a worse situation where they will have a much more difficult time getting those cattle off the land and getting Bundy in compliance with regulations.”

Writer Dallas Hyland said, “The stand-down was necessary to prevent bloodshed, but it must be recognized that if Bundy and a multitude of his supporters, militia friends, and even family members who broke the law, are allowed to go unpunished, anarchy will follow.”

David Damore, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, political science professor, said that there is “a great ability on the part of these folks to overlook the reality of how much the federal government subsidized Nevada in terms of big projects – the Hoover Dam, the mining subsidies. It’s a welfare cowboy mindset.”

Environmentalists held that the BLM’s withdrawal sent the wrong message to law-abiding ranchers that did secure grazing permits and operated within the law.

A supporter of wild horses, Bonnie Kohleriter complained that the government is favoring sheep and cattle allowing them to feed at taxpayer’s expense, and at the physical expense of mustangs sharing the same overgrazed rangeland.

Ranchers retort that the government isn’t rounding up enough mustangs for removal and slaughter as the herds of these wild horses doubles every five years.

The Wildlife Society contends that both livestock and mustangs are destroying the native habitat for native species.

Several other legal cases in Nevada run parallel to the Bundy case. They involve federal lands and ranchers who were taken to court for cattle grazing permit violations or trespass cattle.

Sandoval said, “The safety of all individuals involved in this matter has been my highest priority. Given the circumstances, the outcome is the best we could have hoped for. I appreciate that the Department of the Interior and the BLM were willing to listen to the concerns of the people of Nevada.”


One Response to Widely varied opinions as rancher reclaims cattle confiscated from Nevada rangelands

  1. farmrdave says:

    First off the woman calling for less production on the land to allow more grazing for wild horses should be disregarded. Feral animals not native to this continent are a drain on forage resources that benefit no one.
    The university of Nevada spokesman should consider that those projects were built or financed to benefit US and Nevadian citizens. That is the purpose of our federal government. Not controlling land and resources with paper dragon claims of endangered Owl, or endangered Tortoise.
    For my part I respected government authority pretty much right down the line until the Spotted Owl Hoax was used to take control of the timber industry (early 80's) in Western Oregon. Now it is known that there was no problem between the owl and logging but the logging is still stopped on most of the lands. By searching for "endangered species land closures"and similar searches anyone can come up with lists of public land that has been taken "out of use for public". So what does public land mean? Does that mean do not leave a mark on the land? Or does it mean public can use the land for beneficial purposes and recreation? In Oregon (my state) we are beholden to the environmental groups and await announcement of what land they next decide to remove from public use. Besides the owl we have the Marbled Murrelet, and some sort of newt I do not recall the name. The US Fish and Wildlife Service currently has 1200 animals and 750 plants listed. It seems that these plants and animals are entitled to life, liberty and happiness ahead of US tax paying citizens. How did this come about? Where is it going? I can only speculate on the second question and I see no favorable outcome. Where in our constitution are there provisions to allow a small group of citizens, "environmental groups" to take control of land use? This includes both public and private lands.
    My opinion is, I am happy Mr. Bundy's cattle were returned but the second shoe has not dropped yet. Eventually the land in question in the Bundy case will be controlled in one way or another.

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