Nevada Cattlemen on Cause Célèbre: Cliven Bundy Has a Point

With the rancher and activist becoming a political flashpoint in his decades-long dispute with the Bureau of Land Management, the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association released a statement this week supporting Bundy’s point of view—but not his supporters' recent actions.

It’s not every day that an activist rancher makes headlines for a political protest—and stops traffic in the process.

Cliven Bundy did just that last weekend, however, after the federal government attempted to remove his cattle from a plot of federal land.

Bundy’s situation drew major news coverage, but an association with a stake in the debate has chosen to stay at arm’s length—even though it agrees with many of Bundy’s points.

While we cannot advocate operating outside the law to solve problems, we also sympathize with Mr. Bundy’s dilemma.

The Story, in a Nutshell

For decades, Bundy has grazed cattle in southeastern Nevada, on federal lands near Bunkerville. This was not an issue until federal rules changed in the early 1990s, when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) designated the land protected for conservation purposes and said ranchers in the area would be required to sell their grazing rights to the government. This led to a series of legal battles over the ownership of the land.

The federal government argued that the land was federally owned and that Bundy’s cattle were trespassing; Bundy argued that the land was the state’s and that his family had a claim on the region predating the creation of the BLM. Courts have sided with the federal government, but Bundy has refused to pay roughly $1 million in federal fines accrued since 1993.

In late March, the agency began collecting Bundy’s cattle and removing them from the land, but Bundy’s plight drew protesters—and increasing comparisons to infamous 1990s standoffs, such as Ruby Ridge and the Waco massacre. Such concerns rose after one of Bundy’s sons was arrested for “refusing to disperse.”

Last weekend, the federal government blinked. After armed militia forcibly defended the cattle, blocking traffic on an interstate, officials backed off from their plan to gather the cattle, citing safety concerns.

But they have pledged to try again.

Association Toes the Line

The Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, a trade group that represents the state’s cattle grazers, issued a statement Wednesday [PDF] agreeing with Bundy that federal regulators appeared to be more interested in protecting endangered species than in the property rights of families throughout the western United States.

“Well-intentioned laws such as the Endangered Species Act—which are factors in Mr. Bundy’s case—are being implemented in a way that [is] damaging to our rights and to our western families and communities,” NCA wrote. “In Bundy’s case the designation of his grazing area as a critical habitat for the endangered desert tortoise gave the BLM the rationale they needed to order a 500 percent decrease in his cattle numbers. There never was any scientific proof that cattle had historically harmed the desert tortoise.”

But while Bundy’s plight drew sympathy, his supporters’ actions, which the statement describes as “outside the law,” did not. Instead, the association encouraged a regulatory solution to the issue.

“While we cannot advocate operating outside the law to solve problems, we also sympathize with Mr. Bundy’s dilemma,” the association wrote. “With good-faith negotiations from both sides, we believe a result can be achieved which recognizes the balance that must be struck between private property rights and resource sustainability.”

Cliven Bundy, an active YouTuber, shown in the area of Nevada being contested. (YouTube screenshot)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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