Let’s Talk About Gold Butte and the COWS!

Much has been written and debated about the cows that local Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy has been grazing on BLM managed property in the Gold Butte area in defiance of their demands and lawful court orders to remove them. The Bundy family was among the white settlers of the Virgin Valley and firmly fit the definition of the term “Good Old Boys” used by many in Mesquite.  Below is some background for those who may not be familiar with the Bundy cow situation:

Beginning twenty years ago in 1993, the BLM has been in dispute with Bundy over his right to graze the Bunkerville Allotment of the Gold Butte area. After the BLM terminated Bundy’s grazing permit for Bundy’s failure to pay required grazing fees in 1998, Clark County, as administrator for the Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, purchased the grazing rights from the BLM for $375,000 and retired them, in order to fulfill requirements under that plan to protect endangered desert tortoises.

Despite having no legal right to do so and in defiance of federal court orders, Bundy has continued to graze his cattle throughout the Gold Butte area without paying a penny to do so for decades, competing with tortoises for food, hindering the restoration of extensive wildfires, trampling rare plants, damaging ancient American Indian cultural sites, and threatening the safety of recreationists. A drive along Gold Butte Road will often require that you dodge trespassing cattle. Surveys by the BLM have found well over 1,000 cattle — many in easily damaged freshwater springs and riparian areas on public lands managed by the National Park Service and State of Nevada as well as the BLM.

In April 2012, the BLM was finally planning to enforce the law and have Bundy’s cows removed, but veiled threats and bravado stopped the planned roundup of the trespassing cattle under the 1998 court ruling. The BLM had decided to go to court even again to assure that their planned actions were correct, lawful, and current.

Late last week the U.S. District Court of Nevada issued another ruling (see the Court Order here) that affirms, once again, the right of the federal Bureau of Land Management to remove cattle trespassing in southeastern Nevada’s Gold Butte area to protect desert tortoises, other imperiled species, ancient cultural resources, and the safety of the recreating public. In the ruling the court again dismissed Bundy’s claims that the Federal Government doesn’t own the land by again affirming that the property was ceded to the United States of America by Mexico and has been owned by the USA since 1848. The court also again dismissed Bundy’s claim that Nevada’s Open Range statute overrides Federal Law, as well as his other defenses. The decision affirms the previous finding by the same court, made in 1998 and later upheld on appeal. The legal ruling has now been affirmed twice and unquestionably upheld after appeals by Bundy and has now again provided the BLM with a clear and undisputed mandate to proceed with what should have occurred over 12 years ago. The Court Order gave Bundy 45 days to remove the cattle, after which the BLM is authorized to “seize and remove to impound” the cattle. The court order was signed on July 9, 2013 and thus the 45 day period will end on August 23, 2013.

It has been interesting to watch local political figures dance with this issue. Do they support the founding families in defiance of federal law? Do they take the same position as Bundy that the U.S. Government doesn’t own Federal Land? Do they support the enforcement of the law only against those who are not members of the Club? Their position on these questions should tell you a lot about who they represent.

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