Showdown on the range: Nevada rancher, feds face off over cattle grazing rights

bundy ranch

Warning: Video contains graphic language.

(CNN) — A 20-year dispute between a Nevada rancher and federal rangers over illegal cattle grazing erupted into an Old West-style showdown on the open range this week, even prompting self-proclaimed members of militia groups from across the country to join the rancher in fighting what they say is U.S. “tyranny.”

What began as a legal fight between longtime rancher Cliven Bundy and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has escalated as Bundy has refused to keep his cattle off the federal land, and the government has responded by beginning roundups of the cows.

A confrontation teetered on violence Wednesday when Bundy family members and dozens of supporters angrily confronted a group of rangers holding Tasers and barking dogs on leashes near Bunkerville, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Federal officials say a police dog was kicked and officers were assaulted.

Bundy family members say they were thrown to the ground or jolted with a Taser.

In the end, the rangers got into their white SUVs and drove away, a YouTube video of the incident showed.

“Get out of our state!” the cheering protesters yelled at the rangers as they departed in several vehicles. “BLM go away! BLM go away!” they added, referring to the Bureau of Land Management.

The entire incident is now under investigation, Amy Lueders, the bureau’s director in Nevada, said Thursday.

To some, the 67-year-old Bundy is a hero who hails from a long family of ranchers stretching back to the Wild West.

To environmentalists and the feds, however, he’s an outlaw of sorts who owes U.S. taxpayers more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees.

The U.S. government is rounding up Bundy’s cattle that it says have been grazing illegally on public lands in Clark County for more than 20 years, according to the land-management bureau and the National Park Service.

Between Saturday and Wednesday, contracted wranglers impounded a total of 352 cattle, federal officials said. Bundy says he owns 500 of the more than 900 cattle that federal officials are planning to confiscate for illegal grazing, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. Bundy told the newspaper that each head of his livestock is worth about $1,000.

Since the roundups began, protesters have been confined to two areas to publicly declare their grievances, but the peaceful protests in recent days “have crossed into illegal activity, including blocking vehicles associated with the (roundup), impeding cattle movement, and making direct and overt threats to government employees,” the two federal agencies said in a statement.

On Wednesday, a bureau truck driven by a civilian employee assisting in the roundup “was struck by a protester on an ATV and the truck’s exit from the area was blocked by a group of individuals who gathered around the vehicle,” the agencies’ statement said.

In the scuffle with protesters, a police dog was kicked, and officers protecting the civilian driver were threatened and assaulted, the two agencies’ statement said. “After multiple requests and ample verbal warnings, law enforcement officers deployed Tasers on a protestor,” the statement said.

The profanity-laced tussle was captured on a video posted on YouTube. A group that said it posted the video didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In the video, protesters demanded to know why a backhoe and a dump truck were being used in the roundup — and whether any livestock were killed.

“No BLM! No BLM!” the protesters chanted to rangers in the middle of a two-lane rural highway.

What sounds likes zapping Tasers can be heard in the video.

In the wake of the publicized protests, members of various militia groups have been traveling from Virginia, Texas, Montana, Idaho and Wisconsin and arriving at the protest site and Bundy’s ranch to support the family, said Stephen L. Dean, 45, of Utah, a member of one such group called the Peoples United Mobile Armed Services.

“It’s tyranny in government,” Dean said when asked what brought him to Nevada.

And, he added, “stealing people’s cattle.”

One banner at the protest side stated: “Has the West been won? Or has the fight just begun!”

In removing Bundy’s livestock from public lands, the park service and land bureau are carrying out two U.S. District Court orders from two different judges.

“Cattle have been grazing in trespass on public lands in Southern Nevada for more than two decades,” the National Park Service said. “The BLM and NPS have made repeated attempts to resolve this matter administratively and judicially. Impoundment of cattle illegally grazing on public lands is an option of last resort.”

Added the BLM: “Mr. Bundy has also failed to comply with multiple court orders to remove his cattle from the federal lands and to end the illegal trespass.”

The bureau does allow grazing on federal lands — it administers 18,000 grazing permits and leases on 157 million acres across the country, the agency said.

Bundy’s dispute with the government began about 1993 when the bureau changed grazing rules for the 600,000-acre Gold Butte area to protect an endangered desert tortoise, KLAS reported.

Bundy refused to abide by the changes and stopped paying his grazing fees to the federal bureau, which he contends is infringing on state rights. His family has been ranching since the 1800s, before the U.S. Department of Interior was created and endangered species became a federal issue, he said in an interview with KLAS.

“My forefathers have been up and down the Virgin Valley ever since 1877. All these rights I claim have been created through pre-emptive rights and beneficial use of the forage and the water. I have been here longer. My rights are before the BLM even existed,” Bundy told the station.

“With all these rangers and all this force that is out here, they are only after one man right now. They are after Cliven Bundy. Whether they want to incarcerate me or whether they want to shoot me in the back, they are after me. But that is not all that is at stake here. Your liberty and freedom is at stake,” he continued.

And Bundy sees it as a state issue.

“The federal government has seized Nevada’s sovereignty … they have seized Nevada’s laws and our public land. We have no access to our public land and that is only a little bit of it,” he said.

This week, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval told the bureau of residents’ criticism of the roundup.

What Sandoval said he found “most disturbing” was the BLM’s use of a “First Amendment area” that confined protesters to a designated area.

Such an area “tramples upon Nevadans’ fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution,” Sandoval said. “No cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans.” In response, federal officials are allowing the protesters to gather on public lands as long as they don’t impede the roundup, said Lueders, the BLM’s director in Nevada.

Bundy is digging in for a long fight.

“I’ve been fighting this for a number of years. It’s not about my cows, I’ll tell you that much,” he said at a town meeting on Wednesday night. “It’s about freedom and liberty and our Constitution … and above all it’s about our policing power. Who has policing power today?”

With the growing controversy, it was uncertain Thursday how long the cattle roundup will now last. At Wednesday night’s meeting, residents gave Bundy a standing ovation when he publicly spoke.

“I love you people. And I love this land, and I love freedom and liberty,” Bundy told the crowd. “I know without doubt that our Constitution didn’t provide for anything like the federal government owning this land, and so when I pay my grazing fees — if I owe any grazing fees — I will sure pay it to the right landlord, and that will be to Clark County, Nevada.”

By Michael Martinez with contribution from CNN’s Dottie Evans and Carma Hassan. Dan Simon and Chuck Conder contributed from Nevada. Michael Martinez wrote from Los Angeles.

17 comments

  • April

    It seems a bit severe to be pulling an ambulance to treat a scrapped knee. There could be someone in a life or death situation, but the only spare ambulance they had is out in the boonies treating a scraped knee.And what they need to realize is that they do not own that land, the government does, so he is in the wrong in the first place by bringing the cattle on that land to graze. No different than putting your cattle on another citizen’s land, without permission. Now I do not agree with the aggressiveness of the law enforcement officers, and that I think comes from the frustration with dealing with this person, doesn’t make it right, just understand.If you are going to buck the government, do it legally, and think things through first.

  • Seymour

    I’m a 5th generation Nevadan. I care about my state. Most Nevadans love our wide open spaces and we care about the wildlife it supports. Anyone who lives here has seen first hand the destruction that open grazing can do to both flora and fauna. The desert tortoise, the sage grouse, big horn sheep and other species have all been on the decline for decades. If it were not for the BLM, they would all be extinct. BLM land is land that belongs to all of us. If ranchers like Bundy don’t pay the ridiculously low fees used to repair the land and habitat they destroy, then it’s the taxpayers who will pay for their selfish neglect. mr Bundy claims his family has rights to use that land going back to the 1800’s. Yeah, tell that to the Native Americans.

    • Terry Roberts

      If they slaughter them what will they do with them? Seems to me instead getting nothing they should get the cattle to a slaughterhouse and give the meat to needy people.

  • Kerrick Caldwell

    I’m proud of these people. Very. Seems to me an awful lot of people do not comprehend what was suffered through in order to gain their freedom. Facts are Seymore you pumping your gas does more damage to the world around you than a ranch. In fact the rubber on the soles of your shoes, the electric running your home and various other every day items you use cause an awful lot more damage. This man and his family have worked hard their whole lives and that’s their property. You have 52 displaced ranchers out there and your worried about stress on a turtle. What bothered me the most about serving in a war isn’t what happened there. It’s what happens here. BTW Oath Keepers is full of veterans and these militias are now full of them and there’s a reason they are growing. You know I’m not real sure why kind of concept many here have of what feesom is but I’m pretty sure your going to know what the lack of it is here real real soon.

    • RG

      Feds are showing great restraint. Usually they are kill first and dodge blame later. Ruby Ridge and Waco. They don’t care about veterans as they have active duty soldiers from other areas of the country who act out orders. There will come a time when soldiers will be used against citizens and the true revolution will happen.

  • Stacey

    What I find funny is that I heard about this a few days ago before it was picked up by main stream media. It was only after they say a dog was kicked and officers were assaulted. I noticed it didn’t say anything abut the amount of personnel that was surrounding the ranch or the helicopters that were flying around. Or the fact that they shut a number of roads in the area. I

    • Kerrick Caldwell

      Agreed. I do a lot more reading and research with reputable sources than watch the news really anymore. I teachy kids to take everything and research before being led by what’s simply printed or broadcasted at face value. Bottom line is this isn’t about turtles. And it’s not about the environment. It’s absurd. It’s about a government easing it’s way step by step, inch by inch into the rights of people who are entitled to those rights. I can call anything I want a law. Heck dictators in the past had tons of laws. However this is a nation of laws which are supreme and when so called justice and the law fails to recognize the Gid given rights afforded to people here these so called “laws” fail to have the respect required.

  • I Know the TRUTH

    Want the REAL news? Go to Infowars.com, PrisonPlanet.com and Alex Jones YouTube Channel read and Watch ALL the videos of what REALLY happened during this BLM Standoff and LEARN some things. Including the fact of how the mainstream media twist things to fit their own agendas. There are only three comments on this whole thread that actually GET what is happening to this Country. The rest are just brainwashed sheeple who need their eyes opened and an education. Start with: Sen. Harry Reid Behind BLM Land Grab of Bundy Ranch at http://www.infowars.com/breaking-sen-harry-reid-behind-blm-land-grab-of-bundy-ranch/

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