(NOTE: a condensed version of this report appears in the Autumn, 2014 issue of “Range” magazine, on newsstands now.)
COULD BUNDY HAVE ‘JUST PAID HIS FEES’ AND STAYED IN BUSINESS?
The clear implication of the BLM claims that this is all about Bundy simply refusing to pay “more than a million dollars in grazing fees” is that once this bad, “trespassing” tenant rancher and his “trespassing cattle” have been evicted from this piece of “federally owned” desert range, the BLM can and will go out and find some “better” rancher who’s willing to pay the grazing fees, and this vital source of income for “the taxpayers” will be restored, right? (Remember, it’s all about “a million dollars in grazing fees.”)
But that’s nonsense
First, what the Mainstream Media take no trouble to explain is that, here in the arid, intermountain West, there has developed over the past 170 years by use, custom and also by law, a system of “mixed title” to the “public lands,” whereby the water and grazing rights to vast swatches of largely uninhabitable desert scrub can be owned by ranching families who established these rights “through use” over the decades, just as the Bundy family own the water and grazing rights to the Mesquite allotment.
(Bundy’s rights came down on his mother’s side from the Abbott, Jensen, and Leavitt families, he tells me, and have been in the Bundy name since 1944, when Cliven’s father, Dave Bundy, married into them by marrying Margaret Bodel Jensen, who goes by “Bodel.” Those who claim otherwise apparently believe American women can’t inherit or hold property — how “progressive”!)
In arid Nevada, no rancher can make a go of it on the 160 or 320 acres his grandparents were allowed to homestead. In arid Nevada, ranchers speak not of “cattle per acre” but of “acres per cow” -– it takes 320 acres of desert to sustain one of Bundy’s cows and her spring calf. To run even 300 to 500 head of red Angus, as the Gardners do in the Ruby Valley — or 600 to 700 head of exotic, heat-tolerant F-1 cross-breed Brahmin/Hereford, as the Bundys do, south of Mesquite — requires tens of thousands of acres. Both through paperwork “filings” and through years of habit and custom and adverse possession, Western ranchers have thus established an acknowledged “property right” which cannot be overturned by mere bureaucratic whim.
The value of this established “property right” to graze the public lands is counted when a professional appraiser assesses the value of a ranch for sale, and it’s counted when the IRS decides to collect a death tax. This system works so well that I literally can’t remember any Western ranchers in my lifetime ever “shooting it out” over who has the right to graze his cattle on any given piece of range.
The federals have never challenged the Bundy family’s ownership of these grazing and water rights -– anywhere but through their lying press agents, who don’t operate under oath -– because to do so they’d have to go into state court, acknowledge the truth that the state has sole jurisdiction over such matters, and show how Joe Bureaucrat (or some other claimant) has actually been ranching cattle on said land longer than the Bundys. They’d be laughed out of court.
In fact, all this is about less than $300,000 in grazing fees. The BLM charges $1.35 per Animal Unit Month, which would add up to either $195,000 or $290,000 over 20 years, depending on whether you use Bundy’s estimate of 600 head or the BLM ‘s highest count to date, which was 900. But such fees, of course, have to be based on voluntary “range-management” contracts. And Bundy stopped signing the contracts in 1993 because, if he’d signed, he would have been required to pull his cattle off the range every spring, which would have put him out of business, in which case he couldn’t have paid any fees, anyway.
But it would presumably sound foolish for the BLM to admit they hired freelance cowboys for $966,000 to round up as many as (their estimate) 1,100 head of Bundy cattle as part of a budgeted $5.5 million operation to collect actual grazing fees of less than $300,000.
On the other hand, if the BLM were folding in the arbitrary penalty fee of $200 per day per cow imposed by the federal courts (who won’t give Bundy the trial by his peers that he’s guaranteed under Article 3 of the Constitution, or even reply when asked if they’re proceeding against him under Article 4 or Article 3), then Bundy could owe $16 million just since New Year’s — and “a million dollars” would be far too low.
In the end, the “million dollar” sound bite starts to sound like rural cops anxious to make the inflated claim that they’ve pulled off a “million dollar pot bust” by figuring each ounce of dope will roll 50 joints which can be theoretically sold at $10 apiece, so each pound of ditchweed is worth $10,000, etc.
Besides, if collecting grazing fees on the 52 Clark County allotments that were active in 1950 is so important to federal liquidity, what kind of fees are the BLM now collecting on the other 51 allotments they administer in Southern Nevada, where “better ranchers” have presumably been “following the rules” for the past 30 years?
Um . . . that would be . . . zero.
NONE OF THIS IS AN ACCIDENT
What they don’t bother to mention is that Cliven Bundy — about as far east in Clark County as you can go — is, as he says, “The last rancher from here to the Pacific Ocean.” And the only reason he’s survived is that he WON’T cooperate with the BLM, WON’T allow them to impose on him a “range management plan” which has been a purposeful recipe for bankruptcy for every other rancher in Clark County, and which could soon drive out of business every rancher in the rest of Nevada, as well — though the pretext in Northern Nevada is not the desert tortoise, but the sage grouse.
What happens to the grazing rights, as the rancher nears bankruptcy? With exquisite timing, an outfit like the Nature Conservancy usually slithers up and hisses in the rancher’s ear, offering to buy those rights at a heavily discounted sum. Since they’re useless to any other grazer (the regulators having reduced the number of cattle allowed below profitability), no other offer is forthcoming, and the rancher usually sells out his family’s ancestral heritage for peanuts. The environmental group in question then transfers ownership to the county, which offers the federal “species conservation” gauleiters a deal: “Allow” us to develop some more land closer to our urban core, and in exchange we’ll set aside this former cattle ranch in “mitigation” as a “tortoise preserve” -– even though the absence of the rancher and his cattle will soon make the area as useless to tortoises as it is to mankind.
Then -– who says the bureaucrats have no sense of humor? –- the BLM will report in its official documents and on its Web sites that the grazing rights to that land were given up by a “willing seller”!
Newspaper columnists who are essentially agents of Harry Reid and the BLM wax sarcastic, sneering “Does anyone really believe Cliven Bundy would pay his grazing fees to the state or the county?”
Actually, the Bundys say they’ve tried. But there’s a sure way to find out. All Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has to do is issue a formal, written offer to accept 20 years (heck, 30, up through 2024) worth of grazing fees from the Bundys at the standard rate, without requiring them to sign any BLM “range management plan.”
Then Mr. Sandoval can offer to transfer that money to the BLM, if he wishes, in complete settlement of this matter, thus allowing the BLM to prove once and for all that it’s “all about the grazing fees,” not about forcing the Bundys to sign an agreement to “get their cattle off the land from February to June,” which would drive them out of business in a year, resulting in no more “grazing fees” being collected for this allotment, from anyone, from now till doomsday (the same situation that now prevails on the other 51 allotments where ranchers grazed cattle in Clark County 60 years ago.)
Why could Cliven Bundy no longer operate under BLM permit restrictions? All they want him to do is keep his cattle off the range in the springtime, supposedly so they won’t “step on the little baby tortoises,” a cause of tortoise mortality which has never been documented by anyone to rival predation by coyote and (now “protected”) ravens, the predators the ranchers have traditionally kept down, which is precisely why tortoise populations were so large during the peak grazing years in the mid-twentieth century. That’s what has allowed the Green extremists to complain the reptiles were “threatened” when their populations fell to pre-Columbian levels as the federal bureaucrats started their organized, intentional, long-term campaign to get the ranchers and their cattle off the land in the 1970s and ever since.
Here in the high Mojave Desert, the only time the land looks green and the wildflowers blossom is after the spring rains. The only time ranchers tell me they can fatten their cattle enough to make any money out of the back-breaking work is in the springtime. Pull the cattle off the range in the springtime? Where are these ranchers supposed to put them? They’re not feed-lot operators. Anyone can see it’s a good way to go broke, which is why none of Clark County’s other 51 ranching families from 60 years ago –- the ones who tried to “obey the law and pay their fees” — are still in business. Not a one.
And none of this is an accident.
At www.freedominourtime.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-cliven-bundy-standoff-wounded-knee.html, Will Grigg notes it was in 1993 that the Bureau of Land Management decreed that the land on which Cliven Bundy and his neighbors had long grazed their cattle was actually the “habitat” of the desert tortoise, calling for drastic new restrictions on land use by ranchers and their cattle.
“The BLM’s revisions were imposed during the reign of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who in a letter two years earlier (written while he was head of the League of Conservation Voters) declared: “We must identify our enemies and drive them into oblivion.” Babbitt and his comrades have acted with what (General William T.) Sherman described as “vindictive earnestness” in pursuing that objective: In the past 20 years they have all but eradicated cattle ranching in the southwestern United States.”
‘A THOUSAND AND ONE WAYS TO GET RANCHERS OFF FEDERAL LAND’
In his book “War on the West,” William Pendley of the Mountain States Legal Foundation observes “The enormous might of the federal government has always meant that the life of the West was in the hands of strangers living thousands of miles away.”
During Babbitt’s tenure at the Department of the Interior, Pendley notes, “the federal eco-jihad specifically targeted ‘the most enduring symbol of the American West — the cowboy — seeking to price and regulate the rancher off federal grazing lands and out of business, destroying the economy of rural areas.’ One of the first initiatives undertaken by Secretary Babbitt in pursuit of his vision of a ‘New West’ was to seek a 230 percent increase in grazing fees charged to ranchers on federally administered lands.
“Although the proposed fee increase was thwarted by a Senate filibuster, the effort to destroy the ranching industry continued.”
After the fee increase was proposed, an Interior Department memo surfaced which revealed that Babbitt wanted “to use price increases as a straw man to draw attention from management issues.” While ranchers fought the grazing fee increase, Babbitt and company created “Range Reform ’94,” a cluster of proposed federal land use and environmental regulations which Pendley describes as “A Thousand and One Ways to Get Ranchers off Federal Land.”
During the late 1990s — “a period in which Babbitt, appropriately, was mired in a scandal involving decades of federal fraud, embezzlement, and graft in the Indian Trust Fund System — ranchers rallied to hold off the federal assault. But like the Plains Indians, the ranchers were facing an implacable enemy unburdened with respect for the law and blessed with access to limitless resources.
“Of the 52 ranchers in his section of Nevada, Cliven Bundy is the only one who has refused to go back to the reservation,” Mr. Grigg writes.
(He’s also the only one still in business.)
“So the heirs to Sherman and Sheridan have mobilized an army to protect hired thieves who have come to steal the Bundy family’s cattle with the ultimate purpose of driving him from the land.
“Their objective is not to protect the desert tortoise,” Mr. Grigg asserts, “but to punish a defiant property owner and entrepreneur. This potentially murderous aggression is being celebrated by Progressives as a worthy effort to make dangerous radicals ‘feel the superior power of the Government.’”
For more than two decades, “Bundy has defied the federal land management bureaucracy, and the federals fear his continued resistance could catalyze a general revolt against their designs for the western United States.”
The intent of the Green extreme in whose service the BLM now toils, as described by Pendley, is to transform the West into “a land nearly devoid of people and economic activity, a land devoted almost entirely to the preservation of scenery and wildlife habitat. In their vision, everything from the 100th meridian to the Cascade Range becomes a vast park through which they might drive, drinking their Perrier and munching their organic chips, staying occasionally in the bed-and-breakfast operations into which the homes of Westerners have been turned, with those Westerners who remain fluffing duvets and pouring cappuccino.”
It was back in 1999 that I first toured the Mesquite Allotment — 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas — with Clark County’s last cattle rancher, blue-eyed Cliven Bundy. Needless to say, even then the federals had been working to drive Cliven out of business. Cliven responded by “firing” the BLM — “I don’t sign their contracts and I don’t pay their fees and I don’t expect any services from ’em,” he declared.
At the time, Cliven and I squatted to examine some mighty spindly ground cover, the lifetime rancher explaining to me how the browsing of the plant by cattle clears room for the new, green shoots to come in each spring.
I must have expressed some amazement at the idea that cattle could survive by eating such stuff in the first place.
“A calf only learns what to eat out here because his momma shows him what to eat,” Cliven responded, seriously. “At one point the tortoise people came in here and said I should just pull my cattle off the range for a few months in the spring, when the tortoises were breeding. I told them the only way I could do that would be to haul my herd to St. George and sell it, and then buy new feed-lot cattle and put them out here come summer. They couldn’t see why that would be a problem. I had to explain to them that when you put cattle out on land like this, if their mommas haven’t taught them what they can eat out here, they starve.”
Cliven showed me areas where he’d bulldozed dirt across an occasional wash, which then filled up and became a muddy watering pond not only for his cattle, but for the quail and other wildlife that subsequently thrived there in much larger numbers than had been seen before.
Left in its natural state, the salt cedar will move in and clog a spring till there’s no more surface water for wildlife or cattle, Cliven explained. Only the rancher has the incentive to dig the spring back to bedrock, install piping, and run the water to a tank where it can then be used by deer and wild sheep, as well as domestic stock.
NEXT TIME: LIKE CHINESE WATER TORTURE
(END PART THREE OF SIX, “Driving the Ranchers off the Land.”)
FOR PART FOUR, click HERE.
FOR PART TWO, click HERE.
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