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October 25, 2014

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Rancher in land dispute is a bully, not a hero

I have been following the news on the proposed roundup of Cliven Bundy’s cattle that are grazing illegally on federal lands in Gold Butte managed on behalf of the public by the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service.

I am familiar with the situation, as I served as superintendent of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area for the National Park Service from 1987 to 2000. In 1993, we reduced the number of cows that could be grazed on the Bunkerville allotment to 150 because of the emergency listing of the desert tortoise as an endangered species.

Because Bundy refused to remove his cattle to meet the 150 level and ignored repeated requests to do so, his permit was canceled in 1994 and the allotment was closed to grazing.

As the news coverage has reported, Bundy continues to graze his cattle and has refused to pay the BLM a grazing fee. The figure he owes the government exceeds $300,000. The estimate of cattle being grazed illegally since 1994 on the old Bunkerville allotment have ranged from 550 to more than 900.

It is unfathomable to me that 20 years after the Bunkerville allotment was canceled in 1994, we are still wrestling with getting his cattle off the range. And there were issues of overgrazing that allotment before 1994. It is my opinion that the BLM and the Park Service have done everything possible administratively to try to resolve the issue amicably. In addition, there are two federal court rulings upholding the agencies’ position, and the most recent ruling demanded Bundy not physically interfere with any seizure or impoundment operation.

Bundy is a bully who has used his threat of a range war and to do “whatever it takes” to stop the government from impounding his cattle to scare public officials.

The implications are that he would resort to a gunbattle. And who wants to see another Waco? I was one of those public officials who were told to back off at one point because of concern for violence.

What Bundy is doing is a criminal act, and he should be accountable for his actions rather than be held up as a hero fighting the federal government.

Most of the grazing permit holders on public land are good stewards and law-abiding citizens, and Bundy is doing them a disservice with his actions. He is a perfect example of someone who publicly states that he abhors the federal government but who relies on it for his welfare.

He is grazing free on the public’s land to the detriment of the environment and the honest taxpayers who support his welfare lifestyle.

What if other people decide that they are also going to do whatever they want on federal land regardless of the law and stake claims to that right? A civil society has to have some rules and laws or we would have total chaos.

Bundy has no guaranteed rights on federal land. He only has rights to what he owns privately, yet when you hear him talk, he considers that he has some intergenerational rights to use more than 158,000 acres as he sees fit. And this is some of the most beautiful and important public land in America. What a deal. Wouldn’t any of us like to have such rights?

I am hopeful that the BLM and the Park Service stand strong and conduct the roundup as needed and not be bullied by someone who seems inclined to continue to break the law and brag about it as “the last cowboy standing.” What a warped self-perception and view of his contribution to humanity.

Alan O’Neill is a former superintendent of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. He lives in Southern Nevada.

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