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Federal Agencies Capitulate to Armed Militia: Allow Rancher to Run Trespass Cattle
LAS VEGAS— The Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and other federal agencies on April 12 capitulated to threats of violence from armed militia members and ceased their legally and morally required duty to remove trespass cattle from public lands. Even worse, they returned 400 head of cattle confiscated over the past week so they can be illegally turned out on public land again without permit, payment or management.
“The BLM has a sacred duty to manage our public lands in the public interest, to treat all users equally and fairly. Instead it as allowing a freeloading rancher and armed thugs to seize hundreds of thousands of acres of the people’s land as their own fiefdom,” said Rob Mrowka, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The BLM monumentally failed to remove the trespass cattle, collect fees, or protect the land for more than 20 years. Now it’s backing down in the face of threats and posturing of armed sovereignists. This is absolutely pathetic and an insult to ranchers and others who hold permits and pay their required fees to use the public lands for profit.”
In stopping the roundup of illegal cattle on public lands, the federal agencies are ignoring two court orders, one from 1998 and the most recent from 2013, as well as their duties under the Taylor Grazing Act, Federal Land Management Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.
Twenty years ago, rancher Cliven Bundy stopped paying the Bureau of Land Management for the natural resources his business takes from BLM lands in the Gold Butte area south of Mesquite, Nev. His permit was consequently revoked, but he has continued to graze cattle on the land illegally and without payment, giving him an unfair business advantage over the thousands of other ranchers who pay for the grass they use on private, state and public lands. Bundy has racked up $1 million in fees, penalties and interest that he refuses to pay. He has also refused to obey two court orders obtained by the BLM requiring him to remove the trespass cattle.
Federal agents began rounding up cattle a week ago but decided today to call it off. As many as 400 of Bundy’s cattle that were impounded are now being given back to him so he can once again turn them out on public lands without any payment or management.
“The BLM’s is setting a dangerous precedent in announcing that it will pick and choose who has to follow federal laws and who it will reward for violating them. It is opening the door for every business to stop paying for the water, wood, grass and minerals they take from our public lands. It is encouraging armed extremists to take over whatever lands it wants and threaten the public and public-land managers,” Mrowka said.
Bundy abdicated his grazing permit in 1994 due to lack of payment. In 1998 Clark County, as administrator for the Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, purchased from willing sellers all the valid existing grazing leases in the Gold Butte area for $375,000 in exchange for being able to destroy a set amount of tortoise habitat on private lands to facilitate growth and development. The purchase included the revoked grazing permit, but Bundy has continued to graze on the county’s conservation land, undermining the agreement.
In April 2012 the Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the BLM for canceling a planned roundup of the trespass cattle at the last moment.
“The situation is still very dynamic and uncertain,” said Mrowka, “and we are still gathering the facts and assessing the situation. That said, it’s clear that the BLM has a legal duty to remove trespass cattle for the land entrusted to it by the American people. It has a moral responsibility to not let armed thugs and threats of violence seize hundreds of thousands of acres of public land for their own. We intend to hold the BLM accountable to the American people, fair play, and the clear intent of the law.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 675,000 members and on-line activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.