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March 28, 2017

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Cliven Bundy hosting ‘liberty’ camp-in to mark standoff date

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John Locher / AP

A speaker talks at an event in support of rancher Cliven Bundy on Friday, April 10, 2015, in Bunkerville, Nev. Bundy is holding the event to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Bureau of Land Management’s failed attempt to collect his cattle.

A year since a tense standoff between a Nevada rancher's armed supporters and federal land managers, Cliven Bundy's cattle still roam public lands, more than $1.1 million worth of grazing fees have yet to be paid and Bundy has become a tea party celebrity in the West.

How to mark the anniversary? Have a party. Invite people to camp, splash in the Virgin River and barbecue some home-grown Bundy beef near the site of where Bundy says he took constitutional stand against federal authority on state land.

"People are here to just show their love, without the high tension there was. We're celebrating freedom," family matriarch Carol Bundy said Friday as campers arrived in motor homes and tents for a three-day event on and around the Bundy melon farm and cattle ranch outside Bunkerville.

American flags and other banners fluttered from poles Friday at a site that became a speakers' platform during the days before and after the standoff last year. Volunteers were setting up chairs and lighting below a highway bridge over the wide flat river plain.

Cliven Bundy made the 80-mile trip to Las Vegas to fetch 2,000 steak sandwich buns, and cases of ketchup, bottled water and other provisions.

"We want to make a statement that we're still here, ranching on Nevada land," Bundy said by telephone during the return trip. "The federal government hasn't made any kind of moves."

Bundy has unfinished business with the federal Bureau of Land Management — and perhaps with the FBI, Las Vegas police and other agencies — following the April 12, 2014, standoff.

It pitted federal BLM police against heavily armed states' rights advocates who had converged on the Bundy ranch to stop a roundup of Bundy cattle from public rangeland. Participants said tension was so high that a car backfire could have sparked a shootout that would have killed and injured dozens of people.

The BLM backed off, citing safety concerns. It released the 380 cattle that had been collected, gave up the weeklong roundup and lifted a closure of a vast range half the size of the state of Delaware.

Bureau spokeswoman Celia Boddington released a statement Friday saying the agency "remains resolute" in its goal to resolve the Bundy cattle dispute administratively and judicially.

"Our primary goal remains, as it was a year ago, to resolve this matter safely and according to the rule of the law," the statement said.

Bundy says he doesn't recognize federal authority on land that his Mormon family settled and has used since the late 1870s. He wants state and local control, with policing handled by the county sheriff.

He's taken the fight to the statehouse, urging like-minded lawmakers in Nevada, Alaska, Arizona, Utah and several other Western states to pass laws to seize control of vast tracts of federally controlled lands.

In Nevada, where the federal government controls more than 80 percent of the land area, Bundy and his son, Ammon Bundy, led a March 31 rally to the state Legislature in Carson City. They called for support for a broad declaration that the federal government has no right to public lands.

Bills in other states generally call for studies of federal land ownership or demand the federal government turn over the lands.

Concerns about the constitutionality of some provisions of the Nevada measure prompted a rewrite, but it is due for an Assembly vote later this month. Ammon Bundy issued a statement Friday saying the revised measure was worth supporting.

In Alaska, critics and a legislative attorney attacked a bill to transfer federal lands to the state as unconstitutional, while the bill sponsor maintained that with so much public land controlled by the federal government, the state misses chances to develop natural resources, collect revenue and create jobs.

In Arizona, lawmakers approved bills to ask the federal government to transfer lands to the state before 2022 and to follow Utah into a state compact to create a commission to secure sovereignty and jurisdiction over public lands. The measures await Gov. Doug Ducey's signature.

In Idaho, lawmakers killed a proposal to allow entry into the interstate lands compact.

The Bundy cattle roundup came after the BLM won federal court rulings that Bundy was illegally grazing cattle on federal land.

Bundy has acknowledged he stopped paying grazing fees more than 20 years ago, after the government designated the scenic Gold Butte area as protected habitat for the endangered desert tortoise and cut the number of cows it would allow on the range.

Associated Press photographer John Locher in Bunkerville, Nevada, and writers Bob Christie in Phoenix, Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, and Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, contributed to this report.

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