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for people who care about the West

Self-righteous charlatans


Bravo to Tay Wiles for her insightful profile of the Bundy family and their sympathizers (“Celebrity scofflaw,” HCN, 4/30/18). It is disturbing that there are actually people and politicians who believe that Cliven Bundy and his family are martyrs or folk heroes who have “legitimate grievances” in their battle with the U.S. government. They don’t.

The facts in the Bundy case are simple. For years, they have refused to pay federal grazing fees (rent) of more than $1 million on government-owned land. They don’t recognize the authority of the federal government to manage land, and say that the U.S. Constitution and God are on their side.

As a young congressional staffer, I helped write the Public Rangelands Improvement Act in 1978. The federal grazing fee established by that law is a rancher-friendly formula designed by Congress to keep fees low when ranchers are beset by poor beef prices and/or high costs of production. The management plans that the Bundys so revile are based on congressional laws that require grazing on public lands to be balanced with other public goals and needs, such as wildlife and air- and water-quality protection.

Bundy cattle graze on federal lands acquired by the U.S. from Mexico in 1848. Those lands have never legally belonged to the state of Nevada, the Bundys, or anyone other than Uncle Sam. When it was granted statehood in 1864, Nevada received roughly 5.5 percent of the land from the U.S. to benefit its schools. But the Bundys’ grazing lands were not part of those conveyances. Arguments that it’s time to give the land “back” to the state ring hollow. Nevada can’t get something “back” that it never owned.

At best, the Bundys are self-righteous charlatans and thieves. Their attitude that the federal government and courts have no authority over them cannot be tolerated. It’s always scary when folks invoke God to justify their thievery. If the Bundys’ federal grazing permits continue, it should be on the condition that they pay their fees and honor Bureau of Land Management plans. Otherwise, their permits should be reassigned to hard-working ranchers who are willing to obey the law.

Andy Wiessner
Snowmass, Colorado
High Country News board member