The 72-year old cattle rancher is scheduled tonight to present a “resource management plan” to local officials in Moapa Valley, Nev., part of his dispute to federal ownership of lands surrounding his Bunkerville ranch.
Under his proposal, the Clark County Board of County Commissioners would control public lands in the county, including a new 4,500-acre “Bunkerville Town,” south of the current Bunkerville, as well as a designated “green belt” for agriculture.
“We the people have enjoyed freedom and access; maybe the freest land in America. For 25 years we have had no land plan. It is due time!” Bundy wrote in a draft of his proposal published by the Moapa Valley Town Advisory Board.
The proposal reiterates Bundy’s long-held contention that only individual states — rather than the U.S. government — can own broad swaths of land, despite federal court rulings to the contrary and even Nevada’s own constitution.
Bundy’s plan would, therefore, nullify any land classifications, such as the Gold Butte National Monument and wilderness or recreational areas, as well as void “all contracts, leases, licenses, permits, easements, MOUs or agreements with the United States government.”
“Little by little, the feds have established themselves out there, and put borders around themselves,” Bundy told the Moapa Valley Progress newspaper. Bundy’s land plans cover areas including the Mormon Mesa, the Virgin River Valley, the lower Moapa Valley, the Virgin Mountains and Gold Butte.
“Eventually those borders are generally accepted and become the law of the land. In the end, we have seen that their plans and maps have planned We the People right off of the land,” he added.
The draft also touts the 2014 armed standoff near Bunkerville, Nev., that occurred when Bureau of Land Management officers attempted to round up Bundy’s cattle for auction in order to satisfy unpaid grazing fees and trespassing fines.
“It has been 3 years since the Bundy protest … removed the US Federal Bureaucrats off the land,” Bundy wrote.
Although Bundy and his sons Ammon Bundy and Ryan Bundy were charged in the incident — and spent two years in federal custody ahead of their trial — the case was thrown out earlier this year when a judge found that federal prosecutors had withheld key information from defendants (Greenwire, July 5).
Bundy plans to present his resource management plan to Moapa Valley and Bunkerville advisory boards before bringing the proposal to Clark County’s commissioners.
But Center for Biological Diversity Nevada State Director Patrick Donnelly suggested Bundy’s plan isn’t going anywhere soon. Beyond obvious legal issues, seizing federal lands is a “non-starter” for county officials.
“There’s nothing illegal about presenting a wingnut vision. He’s just wasting everyone’s time,” Donnelly said.
But Bundy isn’t only pursuing his challenge to federal land management via local government; he has also filed a lawsuit in Nevada state court seeking a judgment on the ownership of 58 million acres of public lands in Clark County (Greenwire, Jan. 16).
Although an initial lawsuit filed in January was thrown out for inaction, Bundy and his attorneys, Larry Klayman and Craig Mueller, brought a new version of their complaint in August.
The lawsuit asks the court to “issue a declaratory judgment that the Nevada public lands are owned exclusively and solely by the People of Nevada and its subdivision, Clark County; most specifically, the land upon which the Petitioner and The Bundy Ranch graze and water the Bundy cattle.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking to intervene in the lawsuit, and a hearing on that request is scheduled for tomorrow.
“Bundy has illegally grazed cattle on 800,000 acres of public lands for two decades, racking up over a million dollars in fees and fines and trashing critical wildlife habitat. It’s absurd that he thinks a court will endorse that,” CBD Executive Director Kierán Suckling said. “This case would be laughable if Bundy and his followers weren’t armed extremists with a violent history.”
Status quo for Bundy’s cattle
In the meantime, Bundy’s cattle continue to graze on public lands surrounding his 160-acre ranch despite his refusal to sign any grazing agreements since 1993 or to pay the more than $1 million in trespass fines and grazing fees he owes the government.
The Bureau of Land Management has not made a new effort to round up those animals since the disastrous attempt that resulted in the 2014 armed showdown.
“At this time, the Bureau of Land Management can confirm that Mr. Bundy’s cattle continue to graze on BLM-managed public lands in southern Nevada. A final decision has not been made regarding a gather,” BLM spokesman Derrick Henry told E&E News yesterday.
According to a classified analysis obtained by The Washington Post last week, the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit recommended in 2011 that BLM should waive “the existing fines, as a gesture of willingness to participate in discussions geared toward negotiations.”
That report likewise suggested that such an action could reduce the rancher’s stress and, “in turn, reduce the risk of a violent act.”
But former BLM Director Bob Abbey, who was in charge of the agency when the FBI conducted its assessment, told the newspaper he was unaware of the recommendation to waive fines.
“If that’s true, that message was never communicated to me when I was director of the BLM,” he said. “We would have certainly taken into account what the FBI had recommended. But, again, none of that information was shared with me.”
Environmentalists in the state expressed doubt that BLM will attempt to curb Bundy’s cattle in the near future.
“There’s no reason to think that’s going to happen under Secretary Zinke,” said Donnelly, who added that CBD is currently “gathering data” on damage from Bundy’s cattle, such as threatening species like the Las Vegas bearpoppy and the Mojave poppy bee.
“We are trying to build a case so when there is more reasonable leadership in D.C., someone might be able to take action,” he added.
The CBD petitioned the government to list the Mojave poppy bee as an endangered species earlier this year, citing Bundy’s cattle as one of the threats to the animal.
But while Bundy’s battle with BLM over grazing fees appears to be dormant, his fight with federal prosecutors may not be over.
Although Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro barred federal prosecutors from seeking a new trial against Bundy and his sons, the government filed a “protective notice of appeal” in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this summer (Greenwire, Aug. 6).
Federal prosecutors are required to file their opening brief in that case by Jan. 2, with a response from Bundy and his sons by Feb. 1.
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