Range war: Rancher stands defiant as BLM moves to impound ‘trespass cattle’


by Mori Kessler - St George News (UT)

April 3, 2014


BUNKERVILLE, Nev. – A range war is unfolding in southeastern Nevada. Federal agencies are at odds with 67-year-old Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy. The Bureau of Land Management maintains that Bundy’s cattle have been trespassing on government-owned public lands ever since the he stopped paying grazing permit fees 20 years ago. For his part, the lifelong rancher has chosen not to recognize the authority of the BLM. He believes the agency to be unconstitutional and in violation of state sovereignty.


In 1998 the U.S. District Court, District of Nevada, ordered Bundy to remove his trespassing cattle from federal lands. A similar order was issued in July 2013 and gave the rancher 45 days to remove his cattle or face having them seized, impounded, and ultimately sold at auction. This order was followed by another one in October 2013, again giving Bundy 45 days to remove the offending cattle, but also adding that he couldn’t physically interfere with the impoundment action.


This whole affair started in 1993 when Bundy did not accept a grazing permit from the BLM that had been modified to protect the desert tortoise. As a result he stopped paying permit fees and the BLM canceled his grazing permit. A few years later, the BLM completely closed the Bunkerville grazing allotment and established it as desert tortoise habitat. As evidenced over the last two decades, however, Bundy’s cattle have continued to roam and graze on a range supposedly no longer open to his use.


BLM officials have described impounding Bundy’s cattle as a last resort to a long-standing problem.


BLM: Cattle rustling or resolving a longstanding issue?


“The BLM and (National) Park Service tried to resolve this matter over the 20 years,” said Kirsten Cannon, public affairs specialist with the BLM’s southern Nevada field office.


Last week the BLM and NPS announced it was temporarily closing off portions of Clark County to the public as it conducted impound operations within those areas. The total area covers 600,000 acres and is overseen by the BLM, NPS and Bureau of Reclamation. Impound operations began March 27. Aside from using its own manpower, the BLM has also contracted with private groups and individuals to assist in the roundup of the trespassing cattle. Once rounded up, the cattle will be taken out of state for auction.


Daily notice of area closures is supplied on a BLM website detailing the impoundment operation and the reasons behind it.


According to the website, negative impacts attributed to the cattle include incidents of private property damage, damage to natural and cultural resource sites, and funding and viability impacts as money to certain projects in the region has been put on hold until the cattle are removed.


Various environmental advocacy groups have also expressed their ire over the cattle and have demanded action from the BLM. One such group, the Center for Biological Diversity, threatened to sue the BLM over the agency’s inaction in the matter. The center claims that continued cattle grazing is destroying desert tortoise habitat.


In an effort to help protect the desert tortoise, Cannon said, grazing permits had been adjusted to prohibit grazing on federal land between March 1 and June 24. The modified permits were also renewed on a yearly basis. According to the Taylor Grazing Act, grazing permits can be issued for periods of no more than 10 years.


While the BLM observes seemingly universal grazing permit practices nationwide, Cannon said, individual districts can implement additional rules and regulations on grazing rights based on an area’s ecology. In the case of Clark County, they have to take the desert tortoise into consideration.


Cliven Bundy told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he doesn’t recognize the authority of the federal government – and the BLM by extension – over the land. Ryan Bundy, one of Cliven Bundy’s sons, reiterated that belief.


“Where in the Constitution does the BLM have any right to exist?” Ryan Bundy said. Hearing his argument is like receiving a civics lecture from the point-of-view of state’s right advocates in relation to public lands. “The land is supposed to be controlled by the government closest to the people,” he said.


Despite the state’s rights argument, Cannon said, as a federal agency, the BLM supersedes local and state law. The federal district court has also ruled the agency has jurisdiction over the matter, she added.


Concerning states rights and other objections made by Cliven Bundy in the federal district court, the court’s October ruling stated: