« Return to this article

Know the West

Photos of a standoff

Armed militia members join a Nevada rancher to protest a cattle roundup from public land.


After 20 years of allowing his cattle to illegally graze on federally-owned public land, last month Cliven Bundy was finally faced with a federal action to remove his livestock from the Gold Butte area of southern Nevada. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management had planned for the roundup to last over a month and to collect about 1,000 cattle, but after just 16 days, it came to an abrupt end on Saturday April 12. The BLM released an estimated 300 cattle it had rounded up, back onto the public land.

This reversal came as a result of hundreds of Bundy supporters, including out-of-state armed militia, arriving to protest the roundup and confront federal agents. According the BLM, the agency stopped the roundup in order to avoid an outbreak of violence that appeared imminent as tensions ran high among protestors.

Bundy stopped paying grazing fees to the federal government in 1993, when desert tortoise conservation priorities altered the terms of his grazing allotment. By 1997, Clark County had purchased all remaining grazing permits in the Gold Butte area in accordance with their Desert Conservation Program and permanently closed the area to grazing. But from 1993 to 2014, Bundy’s cattle continued to graze, despite two court orders to remove them and nearly $1 million in unpaid fees and fines.

An estimated 1,000 Bundy cattle continue to illegally roam the area.

Text by Christi Turner, who is an editorial intern at High Country News. She tweets @christi_mada.