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Threatened desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). Photo: Roy C. Averill-Murray / USFWS Endangered Species via
Threatened desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). Photo: Roy C. Averill-Murray / USFWS Endangered Species via
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USA: Government gives in to illegal rancher's armed militia

The Ecologist

16th April 2014

Federal Agencies have capitulated to an armed militia protecting a Nevada rancher running his cattle on 100s of 1,000s of acres of public land reserved for 'threatened' Desert tortoises - despite multiple court orders and over $1 million in unpaid fines.

The BLM 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.

The Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and other federal agencies today capitulated to threats of violence from armed militia members and ceased their duty to remove trespassing cattle from public lands.

Even worse, they returned 400 head of cattle rounded up over the past week so they can be illegally turned out on public land again without permit, payment or management oversight.

"The BLM has both a statutory and sacred duty to manage our public lands in the public interest, to treat all users equally and fairly", said Rob Mrowka, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. 

"Instead it is allowing a freeloading rancher backed by armed thugs to seize hundreds of thousands of acres of the people's land as their own fiefdom.

Agencies ignore two court orders

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 Policy and Management Act, Endangered Species Act and the Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.

Two decades ago, rancher Cliven Bundy stopped paying the Bureau of Land Management for the natural resources his business takes from hundreds of thousands of acres of BLM lands in the Gold Butte area south of Mesquite, Nevada.

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.

However he has assembled an armed militia of around 100 people - many of them his own family members. Of Mormon descent, Bundy has 14 children and 52 grand-children. His case has also been enthusiastically espoused by 'Tea Party' supporters and Fox News.

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.

BLM - a 'monumental failure'

"The BLM monumentally failed to remove the trespass cattle, collect fees, or protect the land for more than 20 years", said Mrowka. "Now it backed down in the face of threats and posturing of armed so-called '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. The BLM 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."

Desert tortoise habitat abused

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 Desert tortoise habitat on private lands to facilitate urban growth and development.

The habitat is also important to wild horses who compete with Bundy's cattle for the sparse pasture.

The purchase included the acres in 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 BLM 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", said Mrowka. "We intend to hold the BLM accountable to the American people, fair play, and to justice."



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