COUNTER OPINION to opinion of St. George News columnist Bryan Hyde (See: March 31 Perspectives: The Bundys vs the bureaucracy) – When dealing with any organization or entity in an exchange of goods or services, whether it is car insurance, a government contract, or your legal rights, you must be sure to cover all of the obligations on your end. Otherwise you risk losing something on a technicality. It all boils down to holding up your end of the bargain. As they say, ignorance of the law is no defense. Cliven Bundy made this mistake in his battle against the Bureau of Land Management to graze his cattle. He had a permit (which is a contract) with the government to graze his cattle on BLM land. That permit had requirements and benefits attached to it.
Under the Taylor Grazing Act, a permit system was set up that granted grazing privileges, not rights. The grazing permit is a revocable license under the law, not creating any right, title, interest, or estate in or to the land. In the early 1990s the BLM revised Mr. Bundy’s, and other ranchers’, permits to protect the desert tortoise. Mr. Bundy did not like the revision and so he made, in my opinion, a catastrophic, knee-jerk mistake when he stopped paying his grazing fees in defiance. It was catastrophic because what he did the moment he stopped paying was remove all legal standing he had. He relinquished any claim he had to graze on public land. When he did that, the BLM rightfully canceled his permit and would not grant him anymore permits.
One can sympathize with a choice that feels like no choice at all, to feel like an agency is limiting all of your options, or in Mr. Bundy’s case, taking away his right to make a living. But in reality, it was Mr. Bundy who made the choice. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. The best course of action for Mr. Bundy would have been to keep paying his grazing fees while fighting the changes he saw taking place, and then he would have a legal leg to stand on. As it stands, he has no legal standing or rights to graze on public land; he is illegally grazing his cattle and has been for 20 years, all because of that one impulsive decision. Never hand your “enemy” the win for free. Know your rights, know the law, and know your obligations stipulated in the contract because then, no one will be able to find fault with your cause.
As it stands, there is plenty of fault to find with Mr. Bundy’s case. He did it wrong 20 years ago and is still doing it wrong today.
When the Taylor Grazing Act was passed, it was done in response to the cries and pleas of ranchers out West dealing with decades of rangeland deterioration, conflicts between cattle ranchers and migratory sheepherders, jurisdictional disputes, and states’ rights debates, who needed help; see Encyclopedia of the Great Plains Web page on the Taylor Grazing Act.
There is a theory about what happens to a resource that is free. It is an economic theory called the Tragedy of the Commons which states that individuals acting independently and rationally according to each one’s own self-interest, behave contrary to the whole group’s long-term best interests by depleting the common or shared resource. In other words, when a common good is “free,” people will selfishly use it until it is gone because they cannot self-regulate, and those who try, quickly give up when no one else does.
The Taylor Grazing Act was a system set up to counter the selfish interests of the individual for the whole by regulating grazing and land use. This government regulation was meant to ensure that the vegetation could regenerate and continue to provide productive land, further ensuring that grazing would continue into the future for everyone.
In the 1960s and 1970s, public appreciation for public lands and expectations for their management rose to a new level, as made clear by congressional passage of such laws as the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. Consequently, the BLM moved from managing grazing in general to better management or protection of specific rangeland resources, such as riparian areas, threatened and endangered species, sensitive plant species, and cultural or historical objects. Consistent with this enhanced role, the Bureau developed or modified the terms and conditions of grazing permits and leases and implemented new range improvement projects to address these specific resource issues, promoting continued improvement of public rangeland conditions. See the BLM’s Web page: Fact sheet on the BLM’s Management of Livestock Grazing.
In other words, public lands grew to include the interests of more than just ranchers. The BLM and other land management agencies had to manage the land for energy development, timber harvest, recreational activities, education and youth programs, and for scientific research. No longer did the land belong solely to ranchers and cattle. It is hard to share when you have been using it for a long time, but share we must when it is a public good and resource. Most of the other ranchers in Nevada understood this when the desert tortoise got listed on the Endangered Species Act and complied.
In the early 1990s when this was taking place, there was a land swap between Nevada and the Federal Government where Nevada offered to buy the grazing allotments to protect the desert tortoise in exchange for desert tortoise habitat that they could destroy for development. The ranchers grazing on those allotments were offered the chance to sell their allotments and did to the tune of roughly $5 million dollars. Mr. Bundy was not given the option of a buy-out for his allotment because he had forfeited his rights to it when he stopped paying his fees. Therefore, the permit was sold to Nevada for $375,000.00. When Mr. Bundy was shut-out, he decided not to recognize the federal government’s authority over him, and started grazing illegally.
The BLM has tried repeatedly and patiently to handle this matter civilly as can be shown by their 20 year efforts to do so. They went through the courts to get court orders to have his trespassing cattle removed. The judges have continually sided with the BLM, and have issued court orders to Mr. Bundy to remove his cattle. But he has ignored them. Now it appears the Nevada Cattleman’s Association is leaning toward supporting the BLM’s removal of Mr. Bundy’s cattle because he is law breaker. While they are paying their grazing fees to graze their cattle, Mr. Bundy is stealing to graze his. It is not fair for the BLM to turn a blind eye to this or to let it go on any longer. Worse than that, however, is the fact that Mr. Bundy is grazing his cattle at the public’s expense.
We pay tax dollars to have our public lands managed, to have equal access under the law, and to have the law enforced. Mr. Bundy has made his right to graze his cattle more important than all other interests. Some might argue that this is an environmental issue, a liberty issue, or a property rights issue, but it is an equal rights legal issue. According to Mary Jo Rugwell, the former BLM Southern Nevada District Manager:
There are hundreds of ranchers that follow the rules. They have grazing permits, pay their fees and manage their cattle as they are supposed to. A lot of other users of public lands also pay for permits and follow their stipulations. It’s just not fair to all of those people that Mr. Bundy does what he wants and doesn’t follow the rules (see court orders linked on the BLM’s Web page here).
He, and others like him or supporting him, may not like the Endangered Species Act and may not like federal law or control, but not liking something does not excuse one from breaking the law. Furthermore, not believing in laws does not make them any less real, valid, or enforced.
While this is an emotional issue for many who know and like Mr. Bundy, at the end of the day, he brought this on himself. If he is a victim of anything, he is a victim of his own arrogance. He willfully broke the law and chose not to work within the confines and limits of it. He has gotten away with it for 20 years. It is time for the BLM to call his bluff and end his free grazing and law breaking now. If he wants to sue Clark County, the state of Nevada, the BLM, the cowboys who will be rounding up his cattle, or anyone else, let him do it. He does not have a case, as has been shown. His argument is weak at best. As Lloyd D. George, United States District Judge stated:
Bundy has produced no valid law or specific facts raising a genuine issue of fact regarding federal ownership or management of public lands in Nevada, or that his cattle have not trespassed on the New Trespass Lands… the public interest is served by the enforcement of Congress’ mandate for management of the public rangelands, and by having federal laws and regulations applied to all citizens equally. (Emphasis added. See also: Moapa Valley Progress article dated April 18, 2012, here.)
The BLM is not the bogeyman as many here would like to believe. It is not a nameless, faceless organization out to get one man. It is an agency filled with average, everyday people trying to do their job, and managing land for competing interests is a hard one at that. Mr. Bundy has had more than ample time to resolve this issue amicably and reasonably, it is time that he suffer the consequences that anyone else would who blatantly breaks the law. That he is seeking public support on emotional grounds here in southern Utah reveals a last ditch effort by a man who has been beaten in court because he has no case.
Submitted by Greta Hyland
Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them; they do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News.
- BLM: Northeast Clark County cattle trespass website
- BLM: Taylor Grazing Act
- Bundy Ranch blog
- Bundy Ranch blog: Contact information for Clark County and Nevada officials
- Letter to the Editor: The spirit of the West; range war
- Range war: BLM, Iron County to work together on feral horse issue – Iron County
- ON Kilter: Bundy’s victim mentality costs him grazing rights
- Range war: County resolves to solve wild horse problem if BLM prioritizes Bundy cattle – Iron County
- Range war: County Commissioners oppose BLM bringing Bundy cattle to Utah – Washington County
- Range war: Rancher stands defiant as BLM moves to impound ‘trespass cattle’
- Perspectives: The Bundys vs the bureaucracy
- ON Kilter: Trespass cattleman not above the law
- BLM, National Park Service close public lands due to trespassing cattle dispute
- ‘Where’s the line?’ Ivory’s crusade to return public lands to the states
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