The rancher, the tortise and the BLM battle

Posted: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 3:56 pm
By: Kevin Woster
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Our main ranch-country advocate rdennis brought the Cliven Bundy battle to our attention recently, and we’ve been talking about it a bit in comments down below.

Rdennis thought it was worth its own thread. And when rd speaks, I listen, although we might not agree entirely on this one.

Bundy is a 67-year-old Nevada rancher who stopped paying grazing fees on federal land in 1993, apparently because he was upset about management changes designed to protect a sensitive tortoise species. Such stuff can be frustrating. Ask any West River rancher who has to deal with the black-footed ferret effect, or federal management of prairie dogs.

And apparently Bundy’s family has been grazing the land in question for generations, which has given him a sense of philosophical ownership that doesn’t exist in law. He now argues for states rights, refusing to  recognize the authority of the federal Bureau of Land Management. There’s no indication in anything I’ve read so far that he was taking that issue to the wall, at least not in any public way, before the management changes to his lease in 1993.

Now he seems to going all Sagebrush Rebellion on the feds, having lost in federal court.

Here’s a link:

I like this one, too:

Look around and you’ll find many more.

I admire ranch folks. I understand federal regulations can be a chore, and at their extremes confiscatory. Sometimes federal officials can be, well, snotty. Sometime ranchers can be, well, stubborn.

Throw in an environmental group, a threatened tortoise, a whole lot of emotions and you’ve got a pretty good news story.

I like pretty good news stories. No, I love them. But this is one that worries me.

I hope nobody gets hurt.

As I said in an exchange with rd down below, when you strip away all the emotions, the historical references and independent-cowboy allure,  the state’s-rights arguments and the anti-federal sentiments, isn’t this at its core a fairly fundamental question of whether the guy paid his fees?

He did not.

And if you don’t pay your fees and you lose in court, don’t you simply lose? And at some point, don’t you and your family have to accept that?

Pretty much everybody else has to, or they end up losing property, money and perhaps their freedom for an adjudicated length of time.

What is it here that I don’t understand? Why has Cliven Bundy managed to run his cattle on federal land while refusing to pay the required fee for 20 years? For a heavy handed federal government, that’s a pretty long time to allow things to drag on.

Why did they? And why should they?

And at this point, why shouldn’t the Cliven cattle be removed and the management plan followed?

Rd, I’m willing to be listen.


  1. rdennis says:

    As I said at the beginning, convoluted… yes, because he didn’t pay the fees, it looks like hie is in the wrong, but….according to what I read, he decided that it is a states rights issue.. the Constitution only allows the Feds to own so much ground.. like 10 square miles, I believe I read… they are using the tortoise for a smoke screen as he owns privately the water rights and Las Vegas wants that water for their city.. apparently, they have shut off the water to the city from Lake Meade.. the Fed have bought out every other neighboring ranchers rights to run cattle in that area.. he is the last one.. last reports I read is that they are shooting all the cattle and digging holes and burying them… as to the tortoise issue, they must not be too worried as they are reported to be killing off a bunch of tortoise that they have had under their care.. so it they are so worried about this tortoise, why would they do that.. many more stories out there and a sad situation… I watched a video of a pregnant woman getting knocked down and a man getting tazed, from yesterday, in what was ostensibly a peaceful gathering…pretty heavy handed.. also, the private land the family owns is reported to be surrounded by snipers and military clothed people… as to complying with the law, this is much the same as Rosa Parks, should she have obeyed the law and moved to the back of the bus? This type of thing has been simmering for a long time, especially out west where there is more land being administered by the Feds.. which again, is against the law.. so why do they get to break the law but a citizen can’t? Lot’s to watch and I hope they settle it peacefully… I am afraid it may be the start of the newest revolution against a large and unfeeling federal government that has gone power mad and gotten worse every year for many years..

    • beep says:

      Why is grazing Federal Land without paying fees such a surprise? The Wild Horse Ranch has been doing that for 20 years in South Dakota (in violation of the Wild Horse and Burro Act). The advertising says the Horses are” Running Free” and they are – all over Federal Land.

      • Kevin Woster says:

        Beep: What’s the federal land involved with the horse sanctuary? Buffalo Gap National Grasslands? Or something else? It’s hard for me to imagine the horses would be grazing federal land without paying a fee. Although Bundy sure proves it’s possible. KW

    • Kevin Woster says:

      rd: So far the courts haven’t agreed with him or you that the feds are breaking the law. Based on what I’ve read, the courts have decided in favor of the feds, not Mr. Bundy. Bringing up Rosa Parks is interesting, because that was a state’s-rights issue, too, by states that wanted to maintain a system of segretation. The segregation laws in Alabama and city ordinances in Montgomery (including one that prevented blacks from voting) would ultimiately be declared unconstitutional by the federal courts, so state’s rights lost there — and I think you and I would agree that it was good that they did. Segregated busing hadn’t been declared nconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court when Parks and others began the boycott. But it’s hard to imagine any logical person wouldn’t have believed that such segretation was both unconstitutional and wrong. I have trouble seeing anything in Mr. Bundy’s case and situation close to denying someone access to a public school, a place in a certain section of a public bus or the right to vote in a public election based on the color of their skin. But if Cliven Bundy thinks he knows the constitution better than federal judges so far, he can continue his course of action, hopefully non-violently. I’ll be a little surprised if he ends up winning on the law. I can’t find any confirmed reports of the feds killing cattle, or killing tortoises. Can you give me a link? Meanwhile, my understanding, based on a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is that Bundy’s son was tased in a confrontation with federal officers after protesters tried to block a truck being used in the cattle removal operation and hit it with an ATV. And I believe Bundy’s son admits that he tried to climb into the truck before he scuffled with officers and was tased. Also in mainstream-media reports, it’s the Bundys and their supporters who keep making references to “Ruby Ridge” and militia groups are offering support that, apparently, includes thread of an armed response. Again, I think it’s probable that the feds have overreacted in some instances. But surely you would agree that the Bundys likey have as well, wouldn’t you? Either way, the removal of the cattle is, as I understand it, all being done with court authority. KW

  2. hymie says:

    “He decided it was a states issue” shouldn’t the Court system and legal system decide this?
    I would think that if the Constitution only allows the ownership of land to 10 Ac. I would think this would have been challenged sometime prior in history? and proved to limited or not?
    My final point is….it is still public owned land owned by everyone and not the current lessee.

  3. Mike says:

    What’s this I hear about the BLM man in charge being a Senior Advisor to Senator Harry Reid just a little while ago? Whats this I hear about the land being needed for a Solar Energy farm where Reid may have an interest?

  4. rdennis says:

    Main stream media? You actually believe the bunk they put out? I can not, will not post links.. you would just say, well, they are not from the main stream media… the Government has been in a war with the west for a long time now.. they want all the water, all the minerals all everything, but people on it… I should have know better than to even bothered… if you’d like links, go on Facebook or anywhere and do a search, it was the most talked about thing the other day, but again, you would just say, well, that isn’t real news… oh well, I tried.. “When they came for the Jews, I did nothing, because I wasn’t a Jew.. when they came for the Catholics, I did nothing because I wasn’t a Catholic.. etc…”

    Oh, by the way, I guess I misinterpreted what reporters did.. like search out news items and report on them…

    • Kevin Woster says:

      rdennis: I’m the mainstream media, and have been for more than 35 years. If you want to read about mountain lion seasons in the Black Hills, who do you think is most reliable, Kevin Woster writing for the RC Journal or doing a TV package for KELO, or some website run by the Cougar Fund? Or PETA? Or the Humane Society of the U.S.? I know lion advocates who get most of their information about the BH lion season from those sites. Think that’s a good idea? The folks who run those sites are advocates, with an agenda. Just as a pro-hunting group with a website would be on the other side — advocates, with an agenda. I read those sites, and sometimes learn from them, but they’re almost always out of balance toward a particular side or cause. You can bash the mainstream media all you like, but most reporters working in it are trying to get things right and provide some degree of balance. That can’t be said for most advocacy groups and their websites. I come back to the core issue with Mr. Bundy. It’s not his land, right? And for years he paid fees to graze on that land. Then he decided he didn’t like the new terms, so he stopped paying fees. Am I wrong on that scenario? And am I also wrong that ranchers all over western South Dakota are paying fees to graze public ground, sometimes under lease arrangements they don’t particularly like? KW

  5. Stephanie says:

    I don’t understand why this has not been in the news. Why should he have to pay those fees? Why does the government feel they deserve them anyway. No one has any right to take anyone’s property for any reason. You can not take someone’s lively hood and way of life and living just cause you think you are owed. Wow the government is totally out of control. Hard to expect the people to not feel entitlement when we can’t even stop the government from doing so. Ridiculous. If this were in SD I would be right there with the others putting a stop to the BLM from moving forward. Or I guess they could shoot me in front of my kids. See how far that gets them.

    • Kevin Woster says:

      Stephanie: My understanding is that it’s not his land. It’s federal land just like the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands is federal land. Ranchers out there right now are running their cattle, fixing fences, maintaining water supplies, sometimes arguing over changes in terms and taking their complaints to the federal delegation, abiding by least arrnagements — and paying their fees. Can you help me understand why Mr. Bundy shouldn’t be and have been required do the same? KW

      • leon says:

        hey Kevin,
        this whole situation is a big cluster.
        i do agree he should be required to pay a certain amount unless he didn’t have a written agreement to lease the land,
        his cattle have been there for 20 years, and they are finally going after him now, that is a load of garbage.
        and there total of 1 million dollars, give me a break, i could see 1000 a year, that ground cant be the best for grazing,
        and if he did graze, what would happen if he sent a bill to the BLM for the upkeep of the fences and water.
        why is the govt. tring to harrass the hard working people of this country. i would back Mr Bundy any day,
        They need to focus on more important issues in this country,
        leave the guy alone and let him live his life

        • Kevin Woster says:

          Leon: Thanks for the comment. My understanding is that BLM and NPS have been trying to get Mr. Bundy to pay his lease fees for 20 years, including through adminstrative process and then through the courts. I assume he resisted, and you know how long court cases can take in this country. Based on what I’ve read, he was operating under a lease agreement that he signed at some point and then refused to continue paying for. Finally with federal court order on their side, the feds were going to remove Bundy’s cattle from the federal land — and return those wearing his brand to him. That’s when the standoff began. I’m not clear on what happens next. KW

  6. brenda says:

    He didn’t pay his lease fees for 20 years….period. This issue has worked it’s way through several courts and Mr. Bundy has lost at each one. He has run his cattle, sold his calves, made his money, but never paid the fees. I cannot support Mr. Bundy, any more then I support the Westboro Baptist Church or those people that quit paying their income taxes because they don’t like what the government spends our money on. Mr. Bundy, father of 14 children, has placed himself above the law, and above all the rest of the American citizens who obey those laws. He admittedly does not recognize the United States of America and says he lives in the sovereign state of Nevada.

    “I believe this is a sovereign state of Nevada,” Bundy said in a radio interview last Thursday. “I abide by all of Nevada state laws. But I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”

    The grazing fee is $1.35 per animal unit (one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats) per month…
    so the money he owes is based on the number of cattle he has been grazing….1.35 a month is very very reasonable..

    Stephanie and Leon, I have an idea, I will bring my livestock and graze them in your yard, and , heck, why should I have to pay any fees, but I want to be fair, I will pay you $1.35 per month for each one of my animals that eats down your grass, and I will also put up my own fence to keep them confined to your property, and heck, I will even haul water to them…so you have to do nothing, except understand that, even though you own the property, I think that I should be able to graze my livestock on your property….what is the difference between me doing this to you, and Cliven Bundy doing this to ALL of the American people, who are, after all, the ultimate owners of public lands?

  7. Keith Dorman says:

    KW said: “isn’t this at its core a fairly fundamental question of whether the guy paid his fees?” I say NO! I say the real issue is what is the best and highest use of the land in the long term. Both sides here have right and wrong points. Allan Savory has the best land use idea: Keep in mind the length of time needed for knowledge to soak in. Allan Savory has examples and so do I.

    • Kevin Woster says:

      Keith: Who decides what the highest and best use of the land is? Do you think the majority of U.S. citizens want that land in public ownership, managed for public use that includes cattle grazing, or do you think they want to given up to private ranchers? Mr. Bundy apparently believes Nevada is a sovereign state, and that the federal government has no authority there. Such beliefs, I think, are far out of touch with the vast majority of U.S. citizens, not to mention the law. KW

      • Keith Dorman says:

        Apparently the folks who lived out there producing food had little influence on what was to happen since all the others were forced out. Did you watch the Savory video? His knowledge was not used by BLM. I did say both sides in NE had bad and also good points. When you are wrong, you are wrong, does not matter who you are. That deal is also about property rights. Did the Bundy family have grazing rights to some of the public land at some time? If so what happened to that right? It seems the BLM was moving to eliminate cattle from all that public land.

        • Kevin Woster says:

          Keith: I don’t know what the Savory video is. I don’t understand what you mean by grazing rights the family might have had. They had rights under lease. I’m not aware of any rights outside of leases that, apparently, they had in the family for some time. KW

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