After the standoff, what's next for Bundy and BLM?

 

With armed militia on one side, armed federal agents on the other, and about 900 cows in the middle, the Bureau of Land Management last Saturday called off its roundup of rancher Cliven Bundy’s “trespass cattle,” releasing the 300 or so cows it had already collected back into the desert.

BLM director Neil Kornze said that the agency made the call to protect both their agents and members of the public, after armed pro-Bundy supporters, many of them belonging to antigovernment militias, made a highly public show of force that heightened tensions during the multi-day standoff in Clark County’s Gold Butte region, 80 miles east of Las Vegas.

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Trespass cattle, suspected to belong to Cliven Bundy, roam the Gold Butte region. Photo courtesy of Rob Mrowka.

After 20 years of flouting the law, Bundy owes the BLM over $1 million in unpaid grazing fees and fines and has defied two court orders. Former agency insiders and legal experts say the feds may have little choice now but to round up Bundy himself. Some of the armed militia members who showed up at the scene could face legal action as well. Nonetheless, the outcome of the standoff may set back the BLM’s future dealings with other recalcitrant cattlemen. It likely damages the agency’s public image, and may encourage the idea that the agency will capitulate if threatened with force.

“In 40 years of working for BLM and with BLM, (the Bundy standoff) is the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever experienced,” said Mike Ford, former deputy director of the Nevada BLM. “All that people have seen on the national news – their vision of BLM right now is uniformed, gun-toting police officers.”

Rob Mrowka, senior scientist for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the recent events seem to have already emboldened other livestock producers with anti-government leanings to challenge federal law. Mrowka had heard through sources with the BLM that the agency has received calls in other states this week from ranchers wanting to renegotiate public lands grazing terms.

In terms of how to resolve the Bundy issue in particular, “I do think the agency and the government have some options available to them,” said Bob Abbey, who was Nevada state director of the BLM between 1997 and 2005, national BLM director between 2010 and 2012, and who dealt with Bundy on several occasions during his tenure. “One thing would be to meet with the judge and see if the judge were willing to issue a contempt of court citation against Mr. Bundy,” which would allow the agency to put him behind bars for ignoring court orders.

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The Gold Butte is managed by the BLM and permanently closed to grazing. Photo courtesy of Rob Mrowka.

The Department of Justice is staying mum on the issue for now, while the BLM has said only that Bundy will be dealt with “administratively and judicially.” Sen. Harry Reid, De-Nev., who has called Bundy and his militia supporters “domestic terrorists,” said Thursday that a task force has been formed to address the issue. A sizable number of militia men are still camped near the Bundy ranch.

In retrospect, the agency’s handling of last week’s roundup could arguably have been better. Abbey suggested that having BLM agents on the ground specifically to address protesters’ concerns may have helped keep the crowds more tempered. That didn’t appear to happen last week, and the BLM hasn’t responded to requests for comment on how they dealt with the standoff.

Bundy’s “Last Man Standing” position and the standoff that ensued are extreme, but hardly new to the world of public lands ranching. Since at least the Sagebrush Rebellion days, a virtual war over the federal ownership and regulation of the West’s public lands has flared on and off. Some cases in point:

In 1991 Nevada rancher Wayne Hage claimed rights to roughly 752,000 acres of public land, in a case that stayed tangled in the courts for decades. In 1997, illegal cattle grazing in Colorado’s Dinosaur National Monument proved a bigger headache than fossil hunters. And in 2004, 70-year-old rancher Wally Klump refused to move 28 head of cattle from public land in the Arizona mountains. He sat in jail for a year in contempt of court until he finally agreed to remove his cattle.

These rebels and Bundy have their supporters, like those who are calling the rancher a hero victimized by federal overreach. Yet not all the likely backers are on Bundy’s side. The Nevada Cattlemen’s Association issued a statement Wednesday expressing sympathy for Bundy’s situation, lamenting federal regulations that favor the environment over grazing. But it also said, “We cannot advocate operating outside the law to solve problems.” Even ultraconservative pundit Glenn Beck has come out against the Bundy camp protesters, and points out, “There’s about 10 or 15 percent of the people (who support Bundy and) are talking about this online who don’t care what the facts are. They just want a fight.”

From both sides of the political spectrum, Bundy’s critics say the rancher’s professed staunch allegiance to the state is inconsistent with his refusal to recognize that the Nevada state constitution upholds federal ownership of the land his cattle graze.

And while the buzz about all this drones on, the long-term repercussions for Bundy and the BLM remain unclear. For now, the agency is still doing more listening than talking. The Southern Nevada BLM communications office voicemail politely asks callers to comment on the “trespass cattle” after the tone. “Rest assured,” the voice says, “that all messages are being listened to each night.”

Christi Turner is an editorial intern at High Country News. She tweets @christi_mada.

Ricardo Small
Ricardo Small Subscriber
Apr 19, 2014 04:04 PM
Mr. Bundy should be sentenced to jail for inciting a rebellion and he should have a lien recorded against his assets for what he owes to all of us taxpayers. The Federal Government is an important part of the United States, one that I am thankful for. Public lands are a wonderful part of the United States and no commercial user group like commercial livestock operators can take public land away from all of us citizens. I've had some differences with the Center for Biological Diversity recently, but Center's involvement with the Bundy abuse of BLM land convinces me that I should renew my membership and continue contributing money.
Jesse Wellhoefer
Jesse Wellhoefer
Apr 20, 2014 08:30 AM
I think people forget. Our government was created by the people, for the people as documented in the constitution. The constitution was made to break free from a former government. And it states the it is not only our right, but duty to stand against the government is the government is doing wrong and taking away freedoms.
Tricia Champion
Tricia Champion
Apr 20, 2014 09:27 AM
Unfortunately for Jesse, the government isn't doing wrong and taking away freedom. If one doesn't like the law, then try to change it. One still has to obey any laws until changed, if in fact the majorit of people do so want. We have only one government so I don't know what former government Jesse Wellhoefer is talking about. We don't dissolve governments and start creating new governments when one person doesn't like following the laws and wants to live in live in this country free of charge.
Tom Schweich
Tom Schweich
Apr 21, 2014 11:57 AM
Similar sort of thing happened around Lida and Goldfield:

http://www.livestockweekly.com/[…]/whlnevada.asp
Tim Baker
Tim Baker
Apr 21, 2014 03:12 PM
It is curious that when Earth First! was spiking trees and putting sugar in gas tanks they were labelled 'eco-terrorists' despite being avowedly anti-violence.

So what do we call Bundy and his supporters who not only flaunt their breaking of federal law but do so with armed threats?
James Thompson
James Thompson Subscriber
Apr 22, 2014 02:51 PM
I am absolutely in agreement that Mr Bundy hasnt just broken the law he has flaunted the law for 20 years. I watched in amazement as reports of Clark County Sheriff Gillespie meeting with Bundy several times. Then as news reports indicating what actions and when would be undertaken by the BLM. It was a formula for disaster and frankly the Officers who were videoed in altercation with the "invited protestors" played right into the hands of an activist/uninformed public.Every one from a Clark County Commissioner to Senators to a Sheriff crowded into a wheelhouse that was not theirs. The BLM, lacked a strategy and had "no" obligation to broadly announce their actions.Twenty years ago was the time to deal with this, not now, not with Pols kibitzing!I am amazed, amazed and disappointed.
Dale Lockwood
Dale Lockwood Subscriber
Apr 22, 2014 03:00 PM
Bundy is a individual who said he does not recognize the U.S.A. as legitimate.
Dale Lockwood
Dale Lockwood Subscriber
Apr 22, 2014 03:01 PM
Bundy is a individual who said he does not recognize the U.S.A. as legitimate and has any jurisdiction..
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder
Apr 22, 2014 03:13 PM
Bundy is a socialist leeching off the government teat. So are many Western ranchers, getting below market rates for BLM or USFS leases, Mr. Wellhoefer. Ditto for many Western farmers and dammed irrigation water.

It's kind of funny that way. Barry Goldwater, in 1964, wanted to shut down the TVA. That's even as water was starting to build up behind Glen Canyon Dam, and even more, below-market electricity was about ready to come Phoenix's way.
Bill Aubrey
Bill Aubrey
Apr 22, 2014 03:13 PM
What people seem to overlook is that the took militia up arms against the government, and as such are traitors and criminals. They are in the same class as James Brown, and should meet with the same end. The pictures of armed men (thugs) pointing rifles in the direction of law enforcement personnel are chilling and disgusting. Bundy encouraged these activities and should be prosecuted along with them.
Chuck Pezeshki
Chuck Pezeshki
Apr 22, 2014 03:21 PM
Funny how the U.S. government doesn't have a problem calling in Wildlife Services to shoot wolves from a helicopter, but wouldn't consider it for the ubiquitous cloven beast. I say call in the choppers.
Doug Smith
Doug Smith Subscriber
Apr 22, 2014 03:22 PM
Bundy is a nut and the whacked out black helicopter fruitcakes who support him should be locked up as well. Please spare me the moronic drivel about freedom and standing up to the government. This isn't a banana republic. Bundy thinks the law doesn't apply to him and he can do whatever he wants and anybody who believes that a con man found gold tablets in New York state is obviously no deep thinker. No one in this country is above the law (even Nixon learned that the hard way) and it doesn't matter how far off the grid he lives. I find it stunning that one of these armed morons can aim a sniper rifle with a scope from an overpass at a Federal agent and get away with it. It will be a sad day in this country if the FBI doesn't identify this buffoon and prosecute him. I hope they parachute in the 101st Airborne and put everyone of these idiots in San Quentin.
 
Tom Darnell
Tom Darnell Subscriber
Apr 22, 2014 03:41 PM
"Sacred Cows at the Public Trough".

I wonder how the livestock industry will react if sage grouse are listed via the Endangered Species Act.
william  evarts
william evarts
Apr 22, 2014 03:45 PM
The BLM should have rakes in their hands, not guns aimed at a rancher. As for Harry Reid, he should be quiet. He's the Senator of only 20% of Nevada. If anyone should be speaking about the 85% Federal land, it should be President Obama.
chuck dunn
chuck dunn
Apr 22, 2014 04:31 PM
YOU SHOULD HAVE POSTED A PICTURE OF THE GRAVE THAT THE BLM BURIED BUNDY S COWS.THE BLM HAS DRIVEN OUT MANY OF THE RANCHERS IN THAT AREA THAT HAVE USED THE LAND FOR DECADES BEFORE THE BLM CAME INTO EXISTENCE. THE STATES SHOULD ALL MANAGE THEIR OWN LAND..BACK EAST THE BLM IS NON EXISTENT. SOLAR POWER TO HARRY REED S SUN FRIENDS IS MUCH MORE OF AN ISSUE THAT TORTOISES.. THE ABOVE READERS SHOULD DO SOME RESEARCH..
Peter Kempenich
Peter Kempenich
Apr 22, 2014 05:18 PM
With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps the public interest would have been better served if the United States had sent in a special operations team to arrest and remove Cliven Bundy for trial. And initiate legal proceedings involving the liquidation of ranch property to pay his outstanding grazing debt, and the cost of mounting such an operation.
Kirk Hohenberger
Kirk Hohenberger Subscriber
Apr 22, 2014 05:18 PM
The land does not belong to Mr Bundy. Yet he thinks it does . Many public land grazers seem to believe that. Because they get to keep this Privileged lease for ever even transferring it when they sell their deeded land.They start to believe they have a right to the publics land. This should end. Put the leases up for a fair bid process every five years, like they do on state land leases , and this Entitlement mentality would end. Also when someone leases private land to graze , the owner, Dictates all the terms the price how long the cows will be grazed and when they will leave that doesn't seem to happen on our public land. Some people believe the owner the BLM ,in this case is in the wrong for deciding terms , Hypocritical?
Peter Kempenich
Peter Kempenich
Apr 22, 2014 05:25 PM
The public should also know that the contributions of federal public lands grazing to western state and local economies and the beef supply is minimal, at best. Public lands grazing provides less than one percent of total employment and income in the eleven western states, and less than three percent of the national beef supply.
Tim Crowell
Tim Crowell
Apr 22, 2014 07:48 PM
Lets realize that Separatist Bundy was very calculated in when he opted OUT of the US. His actions coincide with the Waco attack and the Oklahoma City bombing. Bundy is just another McVeigh / Nichols domestic terrorist. There's a reason that all these 'militia' types showed up so freely and with significant quantities of firearms- all pointed at US civil servants. They are all part of the crazy separatists who deny the existence and authority of the US federal government.

Bundy- already defined as a member of the Mormon Church- a group that has faced decades of federal challenges (Utah's admission to the Nation was predicated on the end of polygamy, for example)- he's got the same bag of broken marbles that McVeigh and other extremists have- no respect for our Country.

Time to seize his land and assets for failure to respect our Courts. He wants a force-based conclusion? His choice. Let him take up arms against 'the finest fighting force on the planet'. Lets see Hannity and the rest of the fringe defend that. Oh- I'll plant a sagebrush in memory of the deceased moocher, cowboy Bundy.
Eunice Farmilant
Eunice Farmilant
Apr 22, 2014 09:33 PM
Excuse me, but do most people who are commenting aware that the Bundy family's ranch dates back to 1870 and the land the BLM claims is the government's belonged to them with their original deeds and claims?

Seizing property that people have ranched for generations in the name of the greater good is questionable. Are you guys aware that meat prices are starting to soar? Private ranchers are being driven out of their lands and market place all over the country and it is going to get a lot worse...for everyone. Also, what about the stories that Mr. Harry Reid has been involved with land deals with a Chinese solar company to install an enormous solar farm on the so called BLM land worth as estimated five billion? Or the fact that the land is mineral rich and the water is potentially going to be used for helping mining?
Doesn't sound very eco-friendly. Nor does the BLM's killing of Mr. Bundy's cattle during the so-called round up... I am not taking sides, I am just reporting other information that has been totally ignored by the popular press--and apparently there are two sides to the debate. Ranching is not easy, look at the huge losses in
South Dakota just last October when a sudden October storm killed 100,000 cattle.
The tortoises story that was used as a pretext to clear the cattle off the lands was given as a reason for the round-up, despite an estimate of the cost of the BLM raid being about three million paper dollars (and the cost of caring for the tortoises estimated at about a million a year) but apparently the reptiles and the cows peacefully co-existed for about 140 years...There are a lot more questions than answers and it sounds like this battle is far from over and the heavy guns are going to be used in the next show down....and the massacre at Waco by the federal government ---as a lot of people see it --might be repeated...
Eunice Farmilant
Eunice Farmilant
Apr 22, 2014 09:35 PM
Excuse me, but do most people who are commenting aware that the Bundy family's ranch dates back to 1870 and the land the BLM claims is the government's belonged to them with their original deeds and claims?

Seizing property that people have ranched for generations in the name of the greater good is questionable. Are you guys aware that meat prices are starting to soar? Private ranchers are being driven out of their lands and market place all over the country and it is going to get a lot worse...for everyone. Also, what about the stories that Mr. Harry Reid has been involved with land deals with a Chinese solar company to install an enormous solar farm on the so called BLM land worth as estimated five billion? Or the fact that the land is mineral rich and the water is potentially going to be used for helping mining?
Doesn't sound very eco-friendly. Nor does the BLM's killing of Mr. Bundy's cattle during the so-called round up... I am not taking sides, I am just reporting other information that has been totally ignored by the popular press--and apparently there are two sides to the debate. Ranching is not easy, look at the huge losses in
South Dakota just last October when a sudden October storm killed 100,000 cattle.
The tortoises story that was used as a pretext to clear the cattle off the lands was given as a reason for the round-up, despite an estimate of the cost of the BLM raid being about three million paper dollars (and the cost of caring for the tortoises estimated at about a million a year) but apparently the reptiles and the cows peacefully co-existed for about 140 years...There are a lot more questions than answers and it sounds like this battle is far from over and the heavy guns are going to be used in the next show down....and the massacre at Waco by the federal government ---as a lot of people see it --might be repeated...
sharon aldredge
sharon aldredge
Apr 23, 2014 12:14 AM
Seems the truth has been stretched a bit. 1870? Not hardly. It seems Mr Bundy's parents purchased his 160 acres in 1948 and they began grazing cattle there in 1954.
Eunice, the Reid story was a conspiracy theory and has been proven to be false. Check out "Bundy Ranch" on snopes and you'll get the real story. The actual solar farm would have been located over 20 miles away, among other solar farms, and actually the project was dropped some time ago. The property in question now belongs to the state of Nevada. Concerning the death of Bundy's cattle, the jury is still out on that one. Many ranchers leave their dead animals to rot on the prairie. Not a good solution, as it baits other animals, but that is what they do. Sometimes they have a pit they bury them in. So, who actually did dig the pit? How long had the cow really been dead? You see, we don't know that. The cattle were mashing the tortoises into the ground, but that's beside the point as he no longer had a lease anyway.
You are right about one thing, don't think this is over. If he was wise he'd remove his cattle and turn himself in before he loses his home and his family. Could get ugly if his gun happy buddies have anything to do with it.
Douglas Bartley
Douglas Bartley
Apr 24, 2014 10:15 PM
Gee, all these people here that just hate those gun totin' rednecks and think it would be just great to send in the federale SWAT teams. When the MRAP's come rolling down your street (like in Boston last year) and they kick your door in I hope you remember that.

I'm not naive enough to think there is no such thing as welfare ranching or overgrazing - but no one posting here has any idea
about conditions on the Gold Butte allotment. So they cannot have
any idea of whether it needs "mitigating" or not.

It is not like there is no precedent for the BLM acting to drive
people out of business with unreasonable demands - in the Wayne Hage
case cited in the article the federal court last year found that
the BLM had engaged in a conspiracy over twenty years to drive him
out of business and referred the information to prosecutors.

It is not even clear that reducing cattle numbers is going to help
the tortoise population since and important source of nutrition and
hydration for tortoises is the dung of ungulates and rabbits and there
appears to be (historically) a *positive* rather than inverse relationship between cattle and tortoise populations:

https://journals.uair.arizona.edu/[…]/10049

The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 contains the language:

"grazing privileges recognized and acknowledged shall be adequately safeguarded" and since the Bundys had previously used the land for
grazing and held the water rights they should have been afforded some
protection to continue to use the land. But before you can pay for
grazing (since the 90's, anyway) you have to agree to terms and conditions that gave the BLM the sole right to decide whether and
how many AUM's to issue - if they reduced them dramatically you were
likely out of business and Bundy had seen this happen to others so
refused to sign (and therefore *couldn't* pay).

Explained by a fellow rancher here:

http://www.bizpacreview.com[…]s-support-hero-bundy-112751

Under Nevada law, a rancher so prevented from using his/her water
rights would forfeit them to the state - which would be happy to
auction them off to the highest corporate bidder so that Vegas hotels
can have water features or the NSA Data Center can consume hundreds
of thousands of gallons a day.

Environmentalists used to be opposed to big landraping corporations
and oppressive government. Now they get played by them to further their
agendas - forgive me if this does not exactly seem like progress.
Seth A Mangini
Seth A Mangini Subscriber
Apr 28, 2014 03:20 PM
It's terrifying to think of what it would be like if these right-wing militias actually seized power. We'd be living in a Mad Max movie.