Armed federal agents deployed last week to northeast Clark County, Nev., for what can only be described as a major escalation in a decades-long standoff between a local cattle rancher and the U.S. government.
Cliven Bundy, the last remaining rancher in the southern Nevada county, stands in defiance of a 2013 court order demanding that he remove his cattle from public land managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.
The 67-year-old veteran rancher, who has compared the situation to similar confrontations with government officials in Ruby Ridge and Waco, Texas, told TheBlaze that his family has used land in the 600,000-acre Gold Butte area since the late 1800s.
“I have raised cattle on that land, which is public land for the people of Clark County, all my life. Why I raise cattle there and why I can raise cattle there is because I have preemptive rights,” he said, explaining that among them is the right to forage.
“Who is the trespasser here? Who is the trespasser on this land? Is the United States trespassing on Clark County, Nevada, land? Or is it Cliven Bundy who is trespassing on Clark County, Nevada, land? Who’s the trespasser?”
Claiming that all other options have been exhausted, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. National Park Service responded to Bundy’s inflexibility on the issue by calling on federal agents and contract cowboys to restrict access to the public land and to confiscate Bundy’s “trespass cattle.”
“Cattle have been in trespass on public lands in southern Nevada for more than two decades. This is unfair to the thousands of other ranchers who graze livestock in compliance with federal laws and regulations throughout the West,” the Bureau of Land Management stated on its website about the case.
“The Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service have made repeated attempts to resolve this matter administratively and judicially. An impoundment of cattle illegally grazing on public lands is now being conducted as a last resort,” it added.
Federal employees and contractors have so far impounded approximately 234 of Bundy’s estimated 900 “trespass cattle.”
The restrictions on the land are expected to stay in place until May 12. Earlier news reports stated that federal officials were considering auctioning the cattle to buyers in nearby counties in Utah. However, a Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman told TheBlaze Monday that the agency has no plans to ship impounded cattle for auction “in the near future.”
Embattled Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy, left, and his son Dave Bundy talk to a reporter on the corner of North Las Vegas Boulevard and East Stewart Avenue in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, April 7, 2014. The 37-year-old Dave Bundy was taken into custody by federal agents on Sunday afternoon along state Route 170 near Mesquite. He was released Monday after being issued citations for failing to disperse and resisting arrest (AP)
The government’s move to assert itself in the Gold Butte area shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering the fact that it’s a move years in the making. In fact, the tense relationship between Bundy and federal government dates back to well before the 2013 court order.
The fight began when Bundy stopped paying the Bureau of Land Management’s grazing fees in 1993, arguing in court filings that he had no obligation to pay the agency because his Mormon ancestors had worked the land decades before the agency was formed.
Bundy claims he owes roughly $300,000 in back fees, but the federal government says it’s more than that.
“It’s a freedom issue. It’s not about cows. It’s a state rights issue.”
“That number, the $300,00, that was a number estimated through Sept. 11, 2011,” Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Kirsten Cannon said in a phone call with reporters Monday. “Since then, the estimated amount owed by him – so including the $300,000 – totals $1.1 million.”
In addition, the cost of removing the rancher’s cattle from the public land will cost taxpayers roughly $3 million, according to initial estimates.
The land was finally declared off-limits for cattle in 1998 and became a designated habitat for the federally protected desert tortoise. That same year, a judge ordered Bundy to remove his cattle. He refused to comply.
Contractors for the Bureau of Land Management round up cattle belonging to Cliven Bundy with a helicopter near Bunkerville, Nev., Monday, April 7, 2014. (AP)
All throughout his decades-long struggle with the federal government, the veteran rancher has maintained that Washington has no right to order him from the land.
The Bureau of Land Management has “overstepped its boundaries by not letting me access my rights, not recognizing state’s sovereignty, and having over 200 armed officers watching our every move and stealing our cattle,” Bundy said.
The rancher’s wife, Carol, said there now appear to be snipers stationed around the family’s 150-acre ranch.
Asked about the Bundys’ sniper claim, Cannon would neither confirm nor deny the allegation.
“There are law enforcement and other personnel in place as needed to ensure that the BLM and National Park Services employees and contractors are able to conduct the operation safely,” Cannon said. “Specific operations information regarding this impoundment will not be released.”
But the presence of what appear to be heavily armed agents isn’t the only thing that has the Bundys on edge: Their son, Dave, was arrested and allegedly roughed up Sunday for filming federal agents while outside an area designated for First Amendment activity on the restricted property. He was held overnight.
The 37-year-old Bundy was arrested “following failure to comply with multiple requests by BLM law enforcement to leave the temporary closure area on public lands,” Cannon said. She declined to comment on the claim that he was brutally treated.
Dave Bundy was released from custody Monday and cited for refusing to disperse and resisting issuance of a citation or arrest, she added. Cannon could not explain why Dave was held overnight.
The rancher said that he hopes Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie intervenes soon and ends the face-off once and for all.
“The federal government has no authority here,” Bundy said. “The sheriff has the authority. All he has to say is, ‘no’ and that’ll get the federal government out of here. I think he has that much power.”
It seems unlikely at this point, however, that the sheriff will intervene, as he has opted to let federal agents handle the situation. The sheriff has in the past advised Bundy on seeking legal counsel while the sheriff has extended federal deadlines.
The sheriff’s office referred media inquiries to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which confirmed to TheBlaze Monday that federal officials are handling the Bundy operation.
Dave Bundy, son of embattled Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy, to a reporter about his arrest during an interview on the corner of North Las Vegas Boulevard and East Stewart Avenue in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, April 7, 2014. The 37-year-old Bundy was taken into custody by federal agents on Sunday afternoon along state Route 170 near Mesquite. He was released Monday after being issued citations for failing to disperse and resisting arrest (AP)
“That incident is being handled by another agency,” a Las Vegas police spokeswoman said. “It’s something we’re referring people to the BLM.”
Asked about Bundy’s claim that the sheriff’s office has ignored him, the spokeswoman added: “There’s nothing further that’s coming from this department about that incident, this operation. We’re just referring everything over to BLM. It’s not our operation. There’s no statement that has been issued about it.”
But with or without the sheriff, Bundy remains defiant.
A Bureau of Land Management ranger stands guard at the entrance of a staging area near Mesquite, Nev., Saturday, April 5, 2014. (AP)
“It’s a freedom issue. It’s not about cows. It’s a state rights issue. I really hope that we can learn and defend our liberties here and keep on fighting until the end,” he said. “I don’t when the end is going to be, but I believe that America is the greatest land in the world and it needs to be protected.”
“Our rights and liberties need to be protected and we’re going to stand for that,” he added.