Making Sense of the Bundy Ranch Saga

BundyDepending on who is talking, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy might be a hero suffering against a repressive government or a racist who has trespassed on public land. His supporters might be concerned citizens or domestic terrorists. Of course, the truth is probably much less clear. Making sense of the Bundy Ranch saga is difficult, because the situation is so complex.

The various viewpoints are reflected in the articles one can find on this subject. It seems like a lot of people come down in one extreme or another. However, this is a fairly multifaceted case. As with many subjects, there are a lot of shades of gray in the Bundy Ranch issue.

First of all, it is necessary to consider what caused this dispute in the first place. This issue has very deep roots. The controversy actually started as far back as 1993 at least. It has only recently gotten media attention, but the foundation for this whole mess has been built over a period of about 20 years.

It seems that in 1993, Bundy started refusing to pay the Bureau of Land Management the grazing fees for the use of public land. Bundy had been grazing his cattle on land owned by the federal government and administered by the BLM.

From this time on, there was of course an ongoing disagreement between Bundy and the BLM. In 1994, the BLM cancelled Bundy’s grazing permit. That same year, he paid fees to the county, but they apparently returned the money due to that fact that they did not have legal jurisdiction in the matter.

In 1998, a complaint was filed against Bundy with the intention of stopping him from illegally using the public land to graze his cattle without paying the BLM. Bundy then tried to argue that the federal court did not have jurisdiction in his case.

Part of Bundy’s problem with the whole situation appeared to be restrictions involving the endangered desert tortoise. Apparently, if the tortoises were found feeding in an area, then grazing of cattle would have to be delayed until the vegetation was at a sufficient height. Bundy seemed to be concerned that restrictions would make ranching in the area difficult or even impossible.

However, making sense of the Bundy ranch issue is difficult because the intrigue did not end back in 1998. Recently, the BLM started rounding up cattle on the land used by Bundy. This brought the whole case to the attention of the nation. Various militia groups threw in their support for Bundy and the BLM at least temporarily backed down. The whole scenario has become bigger than the original issue. For many people, the Bundy ranch standoff has become more about an overly restrictive federal government than about the original land dispute.

There are several different factors at play in this situation. For one thing, it is difficult to argue against the fact that Bundy has been grazing land illegally. Whether he should owe money to the BLM is perhaps a different matter. Nevertheless, Bundy is going to have a hard time winning support from a legal perspective.

Another issue is the huge amount of land owned by the federal government in the Western United States. For example a New York Times graphic from back in 2012 showed the vast amount of land in western states that was owned by the federal government. Granted, there might have been some changes since that time, but according to the graphic an astounding 84.5 percent of land in Nevada and 57.5 percent of land in Utah was owned by the federal government at the time. An issue that has often been overlooked is whether or not the federal government should own such a large amount of land. It seems like it would be awfully hard to avoid grazing cattle on public land when the government owns so much of the territory.

Another issue is that of the protesters involved in the Bundy case. That the power and size of the federal government has steadily grown is something that a lot of people recognize. However, perhaps there are better issues to take a stand on than the Bundy ranch case.

Making sense of the Bundy ranch case is not easy. Bundy clearly seems to be in the wrong in some ways. Nevertheless, there are some valid issues that this whole situation has raised. Sadly, there seems to be a lot of tension between the government and certain groups these days. It would not be too surprising if similar problems occur in the future.


Opinion By Zach Kirkman

1998 legal documents

Las Vegas Sun

New York Times

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