Farm Talk

Ag News from Around the Country

April 15, 2014

Feds release cattle

Standoff defused for now in rancher’s refusal to recognize authority

Parsons 2014 — U.S. authorities released 400 or so head of cattle rounded up on public land from a rancher who refused to recognize their authority, in a dispute that drew hundreds of protesters to his defense and fueled a debate over state and federal land rights.

Some of the protesters, including militia members, were armed with handguns and rifles at corrals in southern Nevada on Saturday and at an earlier nearby rally to demand the animals' return to rancher Cliven Bundy.

The Bureau of Land Management issued a brief statement saying the cattle were released ``due to escalating tensions.'' The release came only hours after the agency's chief, Neil Kornze, announced an abrupt halt to the weeklong roundup because of safety concerns.

Nevada, where federal agencies manage or control more than 80 percent of the land, has deep roots in the battle over state and federal land rights. The fight has raged since the 1980s when the ``Sagebrush Rebellion'' challenged federal ownership of Nevada rangeland ranchers said was rightfully theirs.

The bureau revoked Bundy's grazing rights after he stopped paying grazing fees and disregarded federal court orders to remove his animals.

Bundy, 67, doesn't recognize federal authority on land he insists belongs to Nevada. His Mormon family has operated a ranch since the 1870s near the small town of Bunkerville.

The dispute that ultimately triggered the roundup dates to 1993, when the bureau cited concern for the federally protected tortoise in the region.

Bundy repeatedly promised to ``do whatever it takes'' to protect his property and after a string of raucous confrontations between his family members and supporters and federal agents during the weeklong operation.

Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a statement praising the agency for its willingness to listen to the state's concerns. He earlier criticized the agency for creating ``an atmosphere of intimidation'' and trying to confine protesters to a fenced-in area well away from the sprawling roundup area.

The 400 cows gathered during the roundup were short of the BLM's goal of 900 cows that it says have been trespassing on U.S. land without required grazing permits for over 20 years.

A federal judge first ordered Bundy to remove his trespassing cattle in 1998. The bureau was implementing two federal court orders last year to remove Bundy's cattle after making repeated efforts to resolve the matter outside court, Kornze said, adding the rancher has not paid grazing fees in 20 years.

``This is a matter of fairness and equity, and we remain disappointed that Cliven Bundy continues to not comply with the same laws that 16,000 public-lands ranchers do every year,'' Kornze said. ``After 20 years and multiple court orders to remove the trespass cattle, Mr. Bundy owes the American taxpayers in excess of $1 million. The BLM will continue to work to resolve the matter administratively and judicially.''

The crowd protesting offered prayer and waved placards reading, ``This land is your land,'' and ``We teach our children not to bully. How do we teach our government not to be big bullies?'' according to the Review-Journal.

``Good morning America, good morning world, isn't it a beautiful day in Bunkerville?'' Bundy told a cheering crowd after his cattle were released, according to the newspaper.

Las Vegas Police Lt. Dan Zehnder said the showdown was resolved with no injuries and no violence. Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie was able to negotiate a resolution after talking with Bundy, he said.

Bundy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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