“No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe, while Congress is in session.” ~ Mark Twain
April 2014 will probably be remembered, mostly, for the showdown in Nevada between the federal government and Cliven Bundy, cattle rancher. At this writing the conflict is far from over, although the Bureau of Land Management has, for the time being, backed down.
It’s difficult for Texans to grasp exactly what is happening in Nevada, and some other states in the southwestern United States, since Texas is almost entirely privately owned, and many other states contain mostly public land. Nevada evidently does not even belong to Nevada. About 84% of it is federal land, and therefore the waters, what there are of them, muddy quickly when land use rights clash with environmental concerns.
Bundy’s problems began in 1993, with the federally endangered Desert Tortise, although the Bundy family has ranched in the area for about 140 years. The feds said Bundy’s cattle were detrimental to the tortises, and should be removed. Bundy disagreed and refused to move the cattle.
Of course, there’s more to it than that. Bundy claims ancestral rights, or something, and leased the land from the BLM, and paid grazing fees. He stopped paying those in either 1993 or 1999, depending on who you believe, when the BLM revoked the lease agreements. About 600,000 acres of public land is involved in the dispute.
Since I grew up, and live, in ranching country, and have actually owned cattle myself, I have a hard time believing cattle could possibly present any kind of a threat to the Desert Tortise in Nevada, even if there were plenty of grass in the Mojave Desert. And there isn’t. I don’t know the actual numbers in Nevada, but here in Central Texas, in places where there is plenty of green grass, ranchers run about one cow per fifteen acres. In West Texas the ratio is about a cow to every 100 acres. In far Southwest Texas, land that is probably more akin to the Mojave Desert, one cow per section (640 acres) is common. There just isn’t enough for them to eat if ranchers overstock.
For the sake of argument we could assume Bundy runs a cow per every 100 acres of his BLM lease. In that kind of space it’s unlikely a cow would ever step on a turtle, or a turtle nest. And even if it did, the cattle pose far less danger to the Desert Tortise than its natural enemies, such as coyotes, which are more likely to dig up the eggs and eat them.
But there’s more ot it than that. Worry over the Desert Tortise, I believe, is just an excuse to force Bundy off the land. This could be a case of the federal government flexing its muscles, but there seem to be other issues involved. Political issues.
The Environmental Protection Agency is often sued by a non-governmental agency, such as ‘Save the Sidewinder,’ ostensibly over some agenda. (I know of no environmental NGO called Save the Sidewinder, but such an organization would not surprise me) On the surface it would seem the EPA and the snake people are at odds, when in fact they are often in cahoots. These suits are typically settled with ‘compromises’ on both sides, and end with new regulations that both wanted to begin with, such as a ban on motorcycles and Jeeps in perceived sidewinder habitat.
So things are not always on the up and up, when it comes to our beloved Uncle Sam. Not being a conspiacy theorist, I don’t believe there’s a ‘booger behind every bush,’ but to discount the existence of boogers entirely would be naïve.
Unfortunately, there is still more than that to the Bundy story. The federal authorities, who began rounding up Bundy’s cattle to confiscate as payment for his unpaid lease fees, backed off after a week, when faced by hundreds of armed citizens who gathered to back Bundy. But they didn’t back off immediately. The situation was a standoff until shortly after news broke that Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) may want the land Bundy’s cattle are on for a huge Chinese solar farm. Reid has already reportedly worked with BLM officials (the current head BLM man in Nevada, Neil Kornze, was Reid’s policy advisor from 2003-2011) to redefine the Desert Tortise habitat to accommodate development by a top Reid donor, one Harvey Whittemore.
The feds have made some really stupid mistakes during this fiasco, such as tazing Bundy’s son, and arresting him and two other protestors, all of which were released after a day. The BLM folks also set up a ‘First Amendment Zone’ shortly after the protests started, as if free speech were only allowed in certain government sanctioned places. Such actions have antagonized those backing Bundy, and done nothing to resolve the conflict.
The issue may be resolved by the time you read this, but as the fight is over twenty years old, that’s doubtful. The only thing I know for sure about the BLM-Bundy disagreement is that, no matter what information I’ve managed to gather to date, there’s probably more to it than that . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who has nothing against turtles. Neither do cows. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org