CLARK COUNTY – The range war between Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management appears to be over – for now. The apparent victor is the 67-year-old Bunkerville rancher who, with aid from supporters, among whom were armed militia, was able to get the BLM to discontinue its cattle impound operations Saturday. After Bundy supporters arrived where the cattle were being kept the situation escalated to the point that BLM officials released the cattle.
End of impound operation, withdrawal of the BLM
Paiute County Commissioner Darin Bushman, from Utah, was at a rally supporting the Bundys Saturday morning when Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie arrived on the scene. He said the sheriff stepped onto the stage and announced that the BLM would be discontinuing its impound operations, and also asked to speak with Cliven Bundy about the matter further.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the sheriff helped negotiate a deal between the rancher and BLM Friday night.
“The Gold Butte allotment will be reopened to the public,” Gillespie said, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. “And BLM will be removing their assets here in Clark County. What I would hope to sit down with you and talk about is how that is facilitated in a safe way. We may not have always agreed, but we have been respectful of each other’s opinion and to the process.”
Gold Butte is the 600,000-acre rangeland area in Clark County the BLM closed off portions of to public access during impound operations that officially began April 7.
BLM Director Niel Kornze said in a statement sent out Saturday morning, “Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, 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.”
There were cheers at the news, but it appeared Cliven Bundy wasn’t entirely satisfied.
“Cliven was stern and straight-faced the whole time,” Bushman said, adding there didn’t seem to be much love lost between the two men.
Bundy gave the sheriff his own list of demands, which included BLM rangers and other federal agents disarm and dump their firearms at the base of a flagpole nearby. He then gave the sheriff one hour to comply, Bushman said.
As reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Gillespie did not appear to remark on disarming the BLM and warily walked away with his escort.
Also present at the rally were members of armed civilian militia groups who also came to support the Bundys in their cause against alleged federal overreach and BLM heavy-handedness.
Standoff, releasing the cattle
The hour came and went with no response from the sheriff.
Cliven Bundy told the crowd he would give the sheriff five more minutes, Bushman said. When that time expired, Bundy announced he was going to get his cattle back, and pointed to a nearby ridge where cowboys on horseback were waiting, ready to ride to the location where the BLM had impounded the cattle.
A legion of supporters drove to the location, a wash that ran under Interstate 15. While making their way to the wash, the protesters caused northbound and southbound traffic to come to a complete stop.
The BLM had “fortified themselves in the wash” and were standing guard at a fence set up under a highway overpass, Bushman said. Members of the Bundy family and their supporters, some of which were armed, descended into the wash and approached the fence.
While pressing toward the fence, federal agents began to tell the crowd they were in violation of court orders, and were at risk of being shot, Bushman said. “There were several intimidations that were made,” he said.
Bushman observed the event from the highway and did not move into the wash with the others.
He watched one of Cliven Bundy’s sons, Dave Bundy, go into the wash and up to the fence to possibly speak with the BLM agents. A short time later a deal was reached that allowed for the impounded cattle to be released, but not before the BLM vacated the area.
Time was given for the BLM to get out, and as a long line of BLM vehicles left the wash, they had to pass by the Bundys’ supporters who took on the side of the highway. “As you can imagine, there were many one-fingered salutes,” Bushman said. He added that the BLM agents were escorted out by Las Vegas Metro Police.
Once the BLM left, the cowboys on horseback rode in and the cattle were released. Triumphant cheers erupted from supporters. The cattle were guided away from the area by the cowboys.
“It was quite the event,” Bushman said.
The BLM released the following statement regarding the incident:
Today we announced the decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our grave concern about the safety of employees and members of the public.
This afternoon, demonstrators gathered at the area where personnel and cattle were located. Due to escalating tensions, the cattle have been released from the enclosures in order to avoid violence and help restore order.
The Las Vegas Metro Police Department, which encompasses the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, could not be reached for comment concerning the extent of Sheriff Gillespie’s role in negotiations.
Members of the Bundy family also could not be reached Saturday for comment concerning the day’s events.
Bushman said he supports turning the management of public lands over to the states, a subject which is related to one of the Bundys’ primary talking points – state rights and sovereignty. They see the states as being the ultimate authority, and not the federal government. State right’s advocates argue the states should be the ones managing the lands within their borders, and not the BLM.
Over 80 percent of land in Nevada is owned and managed – or horrendously mismanaged if you ask the Bundys – by the federal government. In Utah, that number is around 65 percent. Bundy supporters have argued that if the public lands were managed by the state, then the situation between Bundy and the BLM wouldn’t have occurred.
History: Why one county commissioner from Utah supports the Bundys
The whole mess goes back to 1993 when the BLM began to modify grazing permits that limited how much cattle a rancher could run on public lands in Clark County, namely the 600,000-acre Gold Butte area. The restriction was done in order to protect the habitat of the desert tortoise which had been declared an endangered species. Cliven Bundy refused to comply with the new restrictions and stopped paying the grazing fees. He also refused to acknowledge the federal authority of the BLM, believing any money he paid to the agency was, in a sense, going to he used to put him out of business.
As well, the Bundys hold their rights to graze cattle across the Gold Butte range were established by their ancestors that settled the land in 1877. The Bundy’s inherited those rights, and argue they should be honored.
Cliven Bundy did attempt to pay his fees to Clark County, the entity he saw as the right administrator of the Gold Butte area, said Ryan Bundy, one of Cliven Bundy’s sons. The county ultimately refused to accept his payments, and money that would have been used for fees went to improvement projects on the contested range, he said.
Now, 20 years and two court orders later, the BLM closed Gold Butte to public access and attempted to round up and impound the “trespass cattle.”
“This is a matter of fairness and equity, and we remain disappointed that Cliven Bundy continues to not comply with the same laws that 16,000 public lands ranchers do every year,” BLM director Neil Kornze said in a statement. He also states Cliven Bundy owes the BLM over $1 million.
Cliven Bundy refused to comply while other ranchers in Clark County did, he said. Now he’s the last rancher standing. The compliant ones were regulated to death by the BLM, the Bundys claim. While on the surface it looks like this was done in the name of the tortoise, the Bundys say the real heart of the issue is the federal government’s thirst for ever-expanding power.
Bushman said ranchers in Paiute County may be facing a similar situation that the Bundys did in 1993. He said a large part of the county is federally-managed public land – land which could be declared closed to grazing if the sage grouse is declared an endangered species.
“All my ranchers are supporters of Bundy,” Bushman said, so he’s paying attention to see what happens between the Bundys and the federal government. He doesn’t want to see what happened in Clark County repeated in Paiute County, he said.
If the BLM or other federal agencies ever did roll into Paiute County and conducted themselves as they did in Clark County, Bushman said such actions would not be tolerated by the County Commission or the county sheriff.
Though the standoff between the Bundys and the BLM has ended and the cows are free again, the BLM isn’t done with Cliven Bundy.
“The BLM will continue to work to resolve the matter administratively and judicially,” Kornze said in his statement Saturday morning.
Previously, the BLM stated that anyone who threatened or intimidated federal agents and contracted employees, or interfered with cattle impound operations, could be cited or attested by law enforcement.
Two altercations occurred between the BLM, and the Bundys last Sunday and Wednesday. The first altercation occurred when Cliven Bundy’s son, Dave Bundy, was arrested for failure to leave an area closed to the public during impound operations. The second incident occurred when Bundy family members and supporters clashed with BLM agents. In that incident, Ammon Bundy, another one of Cliven Bundy’s sons, was hit with a taser three times while Margaret Bundy-Houston, Cliven Bundy’s sister, was also thrown to the ground by a BLM ranger.
The second incident was filmed and went viral across the Internet. BLM officials have stated the incident is under investigation.
Click on any photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.
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