by Frank J. Buchman
Special to the Free Press
he modern day rangeland war saga continues.
Media on all levels have been covering the 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, reminiscent of the range wars of the late 1800s, though no shooting or deaths were reported.
It is 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 Manage?ment and cattle rancher Cliven Bundy in southeastern Nevada over unpaid grazing fees eventually developed into an armed confrontation between protesters and law enforcement, according to wire service stories.
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 accessed bills to the government for his cattle supposedly grazing on federal lands near Bunker?ville, Nev.
Bundy was eventually prohibited from grazing his cattle on the land through an order issued in 1998, by the U.S. District Court in 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 Clark County, Nev., he became entangled in legal battles with the government.
It is claimed that Bundy owes more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees, and has refused to pay the statements.
Courts ruled 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 evidently 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 says the changing terms of land use in 1993 reduced his allowed cattle by 90 percent, capping it to about 150.
The Cliven Bundy family runs one of the few cattle ranches remaining in the Bunkerville area. Bundy has claimed 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. In court, Bundy lost all his arguments regarding states? rights and jurisdictional dispute.
The BLM was tasked with environmental assessment and various enforcement issues regarding the cattle trespass injunctions. During March and 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 under way, 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 5-9.
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 country joined peaceful protesters against the 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, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a statement calling for the removal of the First Amend?ment 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 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 said, ?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.
Gov. 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.?
The Bundy family claimed victory for having its cattle returned, but 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.?
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.
Gov. 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.?