Nevada grazing standoff reignites a festering feud
Cliven Bundy’s latter-day Sagebrush Rebellion is a treatise on why ranchers and others guided by traditional Western values so frequently question the legitimacy of federal authority on public lands.
Throw in a federally protected endangered desert tortoise and you’ve got a recipe for standoff.
Bundy, 67, is a Nevada rancher who has been illegally grazing his cattle on federal land for 20 years. He stopped paying grazing fees in 1993 and ignored a Nevada district court ruling that permanently barred him from running his cattle on land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Bundy doesn’t recognize the authority of the federal government over public lands — at least in Nevada. He claims that his family has been raising cattle on the land since 1877, before the BLM existed, giving him a preemptive right to use it.
The BLM let Bundy’s activities go until he moved his cattle into a protected habitat for endangered tortoises.
When the BLM began rounding up Bundy’s cattle last week for trespassing, the long-simmering feud came to a head. Armed supporters faced off with federal agents, evoking images of deadly confrontations in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, in the early 1990s.
Fearing bloodshed, the BLM backed off the cattle seizure Saturday, but vowed to press the issue “administratively and judicially.”
“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.
Bundy later told FoxNews.com: “This is a lot bigger deal than just my cows. It’s a statement for freedom and liberty and the Constitution.”
If the authority of the federal government over public lands is established in the U.S. Constitution, Bundy isn’t buying it.
Meanwhile, the Nevada standoff was an alarming suspension of the rule of law — from actions by both sides.
Demonstrators were confined to a free-speech area in the interest of public safety — a move that perpetuated perceptions of federal thuggery.
Bundy and his supporters put the BLM in an impossible situtation. The Constitution provides a remedy for Bundy’s grievances. Rather than using the independent judiciary to validate his legal claims or turning to his congressional delegation for help, Bundy and his supporters used the threat of force to win a temporary reprieve.
That’s not going have a long-term effect. As we noted earlier, effective challenges to the federal government come through the courts or legislation — never guns. It will be interesting to see how — or if — the federal government reacts. At least it’s learned from past experience. Federal officials didn’t let this escalate to a Ruby Ridge situation. But a real solution to the issue of federal authority is much more problematic.