In the movies it’s ranchers against ranchers, cattlemen against sheepherders…in today’s real world, it’s the ranchers and the cattlemen against the federal government. You know, just like it is for the rest of us.
The Bundy family has a long history of using government lands as range lands, starting in the 1880’s. According to a Nevada rancher, making land “productive” was an important value in that era. Allowing ranchers to use government land as range land produced cattle for market and produced a livelihood for the ranchers and their families. That was a good thing.
According to Shiree Bundy Cox, her great-grandpa bought the rights to the Bunkerville allotment in 1887. Her dad acquired them in 1972. During all those years, the family improved the land, building roads, “waters,” and fences with their own money. Nothing was paid for by the government.
In the era of the Endangered Species Act, however, values are different. According to the Washington Times, the Gold Butte area has been designated as critical habitat for the endangered desert tortoise and the Bureau of Land Management says the Bundy’s have been grazing their cattle there illegally for years.
Cliven Bundy is the last rancher in Clark County, Nevada, and he decided in 1993 to take a stand against the agency that had pushed out or bought off all of his fellow ranchers, refusing to pay fees for the right to graze on lands his family has used for over a century. After fighting the family in court for years, the BLM obtained a federal court order permitting them to forcibly remove the cattle from the land “with heavy artillery.”
“’The battle’s been going on for 20 years,’ Bundy told the Washington Free Beacon. ‘What’s happened the last two weeks, the United States government, the bureaus are getting this army together and they’re going to get their job done and they’re going to prove two things. They’re going to prove they can do it, and they’re gonna prove that they have unlimited power, and that they control the policing power over this public land. That’s what they’re trying to prove.’”
The agents involved in the stand-off are heavily armed, described by Bundy as having “heavy soldier type equipment,” including “automatic weapons, sniper rifles, top communication, top surveillance equipment, lots of vehicles.” In the process of rounding up the trespassing cattle, agents have intimidated the family members and their supporters, as well as roughed up and arrested the Bundy’s son, Dave, for daring to take pictures on State Road 170, which has been closed and is being held by the BLM.
While environmentalists praise the actions of the Bureau of Land Management, many others are concerned about what this situation says about the state of our freedoms in the US as outlined in our Constitution. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval is particularly concerned about the First Amendment Areas set up by the BLM, areas some distance away from the action where people are allowed to protest the removal of the Bundy’s cattle from the grazing lands. “‘Most disturbing to me is the BLM’s establishment of a First Amendment Area that tramples upon Nevadans’ fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution,’ he said in a statement Tuesday.
‘To that end, I have advised the BLM that such conduct is offensive to me and countless others and that the First Amendment Area should be dismantled immediately,’ he said. ‘No cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans. The BLM needs to reconsider its approach to this matter and act accordingly.’”
So far, the Bureau of Land Management is unimpressed. According to an April 10 FOX News update, “Bundy’s family and supporters confronted rangers who were trying to round up his cattle. On Wednesday, federal agents used Tasers and guard dogs to fend off dozens of angry protesters.”
Clearly, our government is deadly serious about enforcing environmental regulations. It is going to cost about $3 million to remove the Bundy’s cattle from the prohibited lands. Considering the firepower involved and the Bundy’s commitment to stand for freedom, the cost in lives lost could be considerable. Is this our next Waco? Is our government willing to use this issue to show the rest of us who is really in charge?