Officials of the Bureau of Land Management insist Bunkerville cattle rancher Cliven Bundy “owes the American taxpayers in excess of $1 million” in unpaid grazing fees for the past two decades.
That was why they closed off 600,000 acres of federal public land and started confiscating Bundy’s cattle, as recounted in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.
But when armed protesters showed up this past weekend, the Director of the BLM Neil Kornze — a former aide to Sen. Harry Reid and a former Elko resident who was named to head up the agency earlier this month — abruptly called a halt to the roundup.
“Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement,” Kornze said in a statement, “we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public.”
He called the confiscation “a matter of fairness and equity.”
At one time there were 52 cattle ranchers in Clark County. Largely as a result of BLM fairness and equity, Cliven Bundy, whose family has run cattle in the area since long before there was a BLM, is the last of the breed.
According to Bundy’s daughter, Shiree Bundy Cox, her great-grandfather bought the rights to the Bunkerville allotment around 1887.
The BLM started charging fees to manage the federal land. “They were supposed to assist the ranchers in the management of their ranges …” Cox writes online.
Twenty years ago the BLM went to Bundy and told him he could not graze in the spring. This was supposed to prevent his cows from stomping on endangered desert tortoises.
But range biologist Vernon Bostic wrote in “Ecology of the Desert Tortoise in Relation to Cattle Grazing” that the greatest death loss of desert tortoises during the drought of 1981 occurred in an allotment where cattle had been excluded. In an adjoining allotment where cattle grazed all year long, the tortoises were relatively unaffected by the severe drought. “The reason is simple: Cows provide tortoises with both food and drink,” wrote Bostic.
Bundy was told he could not graze in the spring and to remove all his water tanks and the lines that fed them from local springs. Never mind that water rights are granted by the state of Nevada.
Bundy explained to the BLM that from July to February desert range cattle actually lose weight. He would go out of business.
It was go out of business or defy the BLM’s arbitrary and unscientific dictates. Bundy is the last major rancher in Clark County for a reason.
Which is the endangered species? Tortoises? Or cowboys?