Trespassing cattle still on public lands despite years of BLM effort
April 11 saw the latest battle in an almost 20-yearold range war playing out in Clark County, NV. Or didn’t see, rather, as it was called off mere hours before it was to occur.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) called off an impound gather of some 750 cattle trespassing on public land on the evening of Tuesday, April 10. The cattle belong to—or are at least claimed by—Cliven Bundy of Bunkerville, NV.
Bundy and BLM have been at odds since 1993 when Bundy stopped paying fees for his grazing allotment, part of the Bunkerville allotment within the Gold Butte area. Since then, BLM has made numerous attempts to get the trespass cattle off the territory. These efforts have come in the form of court orders, injunctions, letters of notice, fines, and planned—then cancelled— gathers, much like the April 11 attempt. Yet, still, the cattle not only remain, but have expanded significantly, both in range and number.
The why behind this protracted inaction, or ineffective actions, is harder to identify. The cancellation of the most recent gather attempt cited safety concerns for all involved following letters described as “threatening” sent by Bundy to several individuals and groups.
The “why” behind almost two decades of trespassing cattle going effectively unaddressed is another issue, however, though one source called it “feet dragging” on the part of BLM.
“This was one of the first issues I was briefed about when I started four years ago,” said Mary Jo Rugwell, district manager for the Southern Nevada District office of BLM. “It seems there had been previous efforts to head towards impoundment operations. Why this stopped was unclear because the files were unclear.
“Literally hundreds of ranchers and thousands of other land users pay their fines and follow the rules. To me, the most important issue is fairness, so I made it a priority to work on this issue.”
In 1993, due to the threatened status of the desert tortoise in Nevada, stocking capacity was reduced in public lands grazing allotments in the Gold Butte area, among others. Bundy—whose allotment allowed 150 head prior to the alterations—refused to accept the permit restrictions and so did not sign or pay it. Bundy maintains he has a right to graze his cattle on the lands, and has said in numerous letters he will do “whatever it takes” to protect said right.
In the subsequent years, numerous legal and handson efforts at removing the ever-growing population of cattle—now estimated at 750—followed. The U.S. filed a civil complaint against Bundy and the U.S. District Court of Nevada issued an order against him in 1998 which included fines which were never paid or collected.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued additional fines in 1999, though they were never paid or collected either. Bundy’s range improvements authorization was cancelled by BLM in 2008.
Peppered throughout this time were several attempts at gathers, according to sources. However, none of them ever came to fruition, much like the most recent attempt.
“They have tried gathers before, but Mr. Bundy’s threats have shut them down,” said Sue Cattoor of Cattoor Livestock Roundup, the group contracted by BLM in the April 11 gather.
Word that the gather was called off came Tuesday, April 10, in the evening.
“So we had five, six, maybe seven trailers going down to be ready at daybreak, then they called us telling us it was off,” said Troy Cattoor, son of Sue Cattoor and a part of the family’s roundup group.
Sue Cattoor discussed a meeting that occurred the preceding Friday with all regulatory groups involved. “At this meeting, we understood the statement was Washington had signed off on the roundup and the local people were being backed to do what they needed to do. Then all I know is that once these documents were put out by Mr. Bundy, the higher ups decided to call off the roundup and pursue legal action.”
“In this most recent incident, I was told that the [gather] would be suspended and they’d be working with the solicitors on a legal track,” said Rugwell, referring to BLM’s Washington, D.C., office.
Despite coming from a high level source, he eleventh-hour gather cancellation took the Cattoors by surprise, particularly for the cited safety concern.
“We did get what we called a threatening letter [from Bundy], yes, but the people at the BLM had all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed, so we were confident there would be a successful, safe gather,” said Sue Cattoor.
BLM’s future plans to remove the trespassing cattle off the Gold Butte area are unclear aside from aforementioned comments regarding legal efforts. Theirs might not be the only legal actions stemming from this most recent bypassed effort to remove the cattle, however.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), an environmental group based in Arizona, is considering sending BML a notice of intent to sue. CBD cites BLM’s indefinite halt of roundup actions as allowing trespassing cattle to damage critical desert tortoise habitat.
The Bundy grazing issue has been followed by CBD for some time. In a letter to Rugwell with BLM sent late 2010, CBD claimed, “…[t]he trespass cattle consume the forage intended for the desert tortoises and other ‘covered’ species under the [Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan], collapse tortoise burrows, trample tortoises… and damage and destroy fire restoration efforts in the area, also to the detriment of the desert tortoise.” — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor