Cliven Bundy finally made the national news with his personal range war and staring down the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This story has been going on for years, but it certainly reached a critical point last week when the BLM decided it was time to gather his cattle. Mr. Bundy was indeed not paying his grazing fees and pretty much ignored all BLM rules, including allotted AUMs and even the permit process.
Unfortunately, Mr. Bundy has broken the law, but this most recent episode cuts to the core of the western culture, which is all about life, liberty and freedom. The Bundys have been on that land since the 1870s and you have to give them credit for making a living on that land for all those years. The Bundys are the only ranch family left in Clark County, NV.
Watching the national news coverage of this story has been entertaining. It’s surprising that the situation didn’t get out of control when over 100 Bundy supporters turned back the BLM from gathering his cattle; there were guns and emotions everywhere. His culture has been destroyed by the U.S. Government and the populist laws that have been developed over the years.
This thing all started with the Endangered Species Act, 25 years ago, and the desert tortoise making the endangered species list. Did anyone really care about the tortoise? It doesn’t appear so, and BLM hasn’t produced a progress report on the state of the desert tortoise for years. The tortoise essentially eliminated cattle ranching in Clark County and most of the Mojave Desert region. Bundy has watched his neighbors fade away and has chosen the path of protest to protect his and our western culture.
Most people don’t know what it takes to run on public lands and a multitude of ranchers have generations invested in these lands to earn a living. The Endangered Species Act is a dangerous law with many unintended consequences. Environmentalists have found it a useful tool to forward their cattle-free agenda. Remember “Cattle Free by ‘93?” It was the environmentalists’ rally cry in the 1980s, when Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt came up with rangeland reform and altered the western livestock industry.
States’ rights are also in play for Mr. Bundy, who apparently thinks that since his family was using that land since 1870—before Nevada became a member of the U.S.—the state’s rights take precedence over the federal government, a topic debated since the Civil War.
How to manage federal lands has become a big problem for the federal government and western resource users. Most western states have made attempts to gain control of the federal lands to better manage their economies and maintain their cultures. Resource use on federal land has always been a contentious issue.
At times I think the use of public lands may be very misleading because, at the end of the day, the feds can do just about anything they want on those lands regardless of community or culture. Those lands have become a political tool, and that should come to an end. Why should the federal government lay claim to those lands? Why do they need them? They would certainly be more productive in private and the states’ hands.
I’m afraid that Mr. Bundy is in a very difficult position and by all accounts, he has allowed his cattle to roam free and is clearly fighting a losing battle. The law is the law and we can debate what should have been, and what could have been, but that is pointless. The rural West is becoming a victim of urban encroachment and inch by inch the federal government does take rights away, sometimes for good reason, but many times they’re not so good.
In my view, Mr. Bundy’s situation is a symptom of a bigger problem in the West: The government allows environmental groups to impose a culture war against those who utilize the federal land resource. And that is one thing that today’s society doesn’t seem to get. Natural resources and renewable resources are there to be utilized for the betterment of the economy and society. If the sage grouse is determined to be endangered, we are certainly endangering western culture.
Western federal land resource users need to take the opportunity that Mr. Bundy has presented and turn this into a positive message to promote the positive aspects of our culture and industry that adds jobs, growth and wealth to our society. — PETE CROW