Since Saturday morning the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service have removed a total of 352 cattle from public lands in the Gold Butte, Nev. area – cattle owned by Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.
Bundy said his family has been working the land in Clark County since before Nevada was granted statehood. He said that the federal government has no right to own land that rests within a sovereign state based on the constitution.
“It’s really about our constitutional rights and statehood,” he said. “And whether this area known as the state of Nevada is owned by the United States government or is owned by the sovereign state of Nevada.”
Despite Bundy’s claim that the federal government has no right to charge fees to land that is owned by the state of Nevada, BLM Public Affairs Specialist said that the U.S. government unequivocally owns public lands, and that Bundy is subject to two federal court orders to remove his cattle from said lands.
She said that Bundy is in violation of both orders, and that he left the BLM no choice, but to confiscate the estimated 908 head of cattle.
“The United States government owns and has broad authority to regulate federal lands in Nevada,” Cannon said. “In response to challenges of federal ownership of the lands in Nevada, the 9th circuit held that the federal government owned all federal lands in Nevada, and that those lands did not pass to the state upon statehood.”
In addition, the government does manage those lands, for public benefit, they are your public lands, and Mr. Bundy has been in trespass on your public lands for more than twenty years,” she added.
In 1993, Bundy said the BLM revoked his grazing rights in order to protect Desert Tortoise habitat. He said that the BLM now has plans to euthanize thousands of tortoises, because they have an overpopulation that has developed from mismanaged lands.
According to the BLM website, found at http://www.blm.gov/, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center that opened in 1990 to protect the Desert Tortoise, because development was threatening their livelihood, is preparing to close due to a lack of funding. Though the website does not indicate how many tortoises the BLM plans to euthanize, it does say that “healthy tortoises will not be euthanized” in bold lettering.
NPS spokeswoman Christie Vanover said that Bundy’s grazing rights were cancelled in 1993, because he stopped paying fees, not, because of the Desert Tortoise. She said that since then Bundy has accumulated over $1 million in cattle grazing and trespass fees he now owes the American government, and thereby the American people.
According to Bundy’s blog, found at http://bundyranch.blogspot.com/, the BLM and the NPS have not simply been removing cattle. The blog reported that the show of force by the federal government has included armed federal agents and helicopters leaving the Bundy’s in fear for their lives, especially after the arrest of Bundy’s son Dave Bundy for filming BLM and NPS activities outside of a “free speech zone”.
Dave said that when the rangers first approached they had their weapons drawn and they told him that he had to leave, because he could not film on federal land. He said he declined to move stating that he was on a state highway and not federal land, and that he had a first amendment right to protest peacefully and that he was not violating any laws, nor behaving in a non-peaceful manner.
It was then, Dave said, that the rangers moved in from both sides to take him down in an attempt to forcibly remove him from the side of the road. He said he tried to keep from being pummeled face first into the ground, but a third ranger began to kick and punch him so he collapsed to the ground.
Iron County Commissioner David Miller said he was on the phone with Dave’s brother Ryan Bundy at the time, and heard the whole thing in real time as it unfolded.
“He was telling me ‘I’ve got people all around me, and I can see snipers up on the hill’,” he said explaining that shortly after he heard a lot of commotion and then the phone line went dead.
When Ryan called him back shortly after, Miller said he learned that Dave had been arrested and assaulted by law enforcement officers.
“At that point I drove down there,” he said. “Not, because I have a vested interest in the Bundy situation, but because I believe wholeheartedly that an injustice against one, is an injustice against all.”
Vanover said “free speech zones” were designated by the NPS and the BLM for the safety and the convenience of the public. She said the zones are placed in prominent areas and allow protestors to gather so that they can express their first amendment rights out of the way of traffic, but are still able to be seen by the general public.
“We don’t hide them in an area where they’re not going to be heard,” she said. “We want people to be out there, we want them to express their points of view, because ultimately we work for the American people.”
Cannon said that Dave was charged with refusing to disperse and resisting issuance of citation or arrest. She said that was the only statement the BLM would release in response to the allegations of excessive force.
As the crowds of protesters have grown through the week – putting a national spotlight on the issue that has come to be known as the Bundy vs. BLM/NPS “Range War” – deep emotions from American citizens who can still remember Ruby Ridge have swelled pushing many into action.
The 2014 Progressive Democratic Candidate for Nevada Governor Allen Rheinhart said this is not the first time he has witnessed the BLM strong arm a Nevada rancher. He said the BLM took cattle belonging to a man named Wayne Hage for the same reasons cited in the Bundy case.
“The BLM took some of his cattle, Rheinhart said. “Then (they) sold them all off for grazing on BLM land, and then sent him a bill for housing the cattle until the auction took place.
“In the end, he was forced to sell his ranch – a ranch that had been in his family for four generations if memory serves me correctly.”
Rheinhart said he wanted to contact the Bundy’s out of concern for their safety from the “ultra-nationalist crazies talking about coming here from North Carolina with guns and ammo”. He said he has read the threats on the Bundy’s blog, and he takes them very seriously.
“It won't take much at this point to turn Bunkerville, Nevada into Ruby Ridge II,” Rheinhart said.
The bottom line, Vanover said, was that the Bundy’s had been given ample opportunity to voluntarily remove their cattle from public lands before the roundup that began Saturday morning. She said certain parts of public lands will remain closed to the public for the next couple of weeks, depending on how long it takes to gather all of the Bundy’s cattle.
More information about the history of trespass cattle on public lands, and closure locations including dates and times is available at www.blm.gov
Look for the next story tonight on KCSG: How The Range War Hit Home In Utah