Cliven Bundy is a man on a mission. He’s been battling the federal government — specifically, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) — for more than 20 years, and he’s determined to win this David-and-Goliath battle.
Bundy’s family has raised cattle on the land around Mesquite since the 1870s, and he now owns about 500 cattle roaming through the desert rangeland. He tends them, brands them, and drives them to market much like his ancestors did. It’s a hard way of life, but he’s carrying on the family tradition. Now 67, Bundy hopes to someday pass it on to his 14 children.
The only problem is that Bundy doesn’t own the land his cattle are grazing on. Like more than 85 percent of Nevada, that land is owned by the federal government and managed by the BLM, which leases grazing rights to ranchers for an annual fee. Since 1993, Bundy has refused to pay the fees, claiming that his Mormon pioneer family settled the area long before the BLM even existed. He also insists that the land belongs to the state, not to the federal government, which has no right to order him around or fine him. The government at first wanted him just to pay the fees, then cancelled his grazing rights altogether and demanded he remove his cattle from “their” land. The BLM keeps winning judgments against him in court, where he defends himself, and Bundy keeps ignoring their orders.
In July, the U.S. district court ruled that if Bundy didn’t remove his cattle by August 23rd, they could be seized by the BLM. The government also wants him to remove all his improvements, including water tanks and wells. The deadline came and went, and so far (as of press time), the cattle are still on the land and Bundy still refuses to pay the fees, which may now total more than $300,000. He has declared himself willing to do whatever it takes to defend his property, which seems to have scared off the feds.
Bundy says he has “fired” the BLM, whose so-called experts said he would be permitted to run his cattle on the range only from mid-summer through winter. As a rancher, Bundy knows that spring is the only time cattle fatten up, but the BLM was concerned that cows might step on baby tortoises when they emerge in the spring, and as everyone knows, the desert tortoise is an “endangered species”.
Range biologists demonstrated years ago that desert tortoises actually do better on land that’s being grazed by cattle and managed by ranchers. People who have lived in Southern Nevada awhile know that this business of “protecting the desert tortoise” is an example of government interference at its worst. In the 1990s, the feds insisted that tortoises were in danger of extinction. They blocked off huge areas of land from development, and charged exorbitant fees to developers, which were used to establish a Desert Tortoise Conservation Center. You may have read recently that the center was so overcrowded with tortoises that they had to euthanize many of them. They couldn’t release them into the wild because that would cause overcrowding in the native population. How can an endangered animal population be overcrowded? That’s government logic for you.
Cliven Bundy may be on the wrong side of the law according to the courts, but to my way of thinking, we need more citizens like him to stand up to the federal government instead of giving in to their insatiable power grabbing. Let the cattle graze and the cowboys ride the range, and if they occasionally step on a tortoise, that’s a small price to pay for living free.
For more on this issue, please see these articles:
In Nevada, a rancher wages a lonesome fight over land (Los Angeles Times)
Ending a Way of Life (Vin Suprynowicz, Review Journal)
No One Asked Me But…, by Dr. Larry Moses (Bundyranch.blogspot.com)
BLM may seize Bundy’s cattle after Aug. 23 deadline (Mesquite Local News)