In a “Range War” between a rancher and government – no one wins

 Resize text         Printer-friendly version of this article Printer-friendly version of this article

Across the rugged frontier of the Western United States, thousands of livestock ranchers work each day to care for their livestock and also care for the land. In the case of many western ranchers, there is a good chance that at least part the land their cattle graze is owned by the federal government.

Bureau of Land Management A good chance because the federal government owns roughly 660 million acres across the United States, including one out of every two acres in the West. Of the nation’s federally-owned lands, more than 90 percent are located in the West. Some of that land is in national parks or other historic areas, some is leased for oil and gas exploration, some for recreation, but some of it is leased to individuals to graze livestock on throughout parts of the year.

Livestock ranchers pay a grazing fee established by a presidential Executive Order in 1986. Currently, the grazing fee is $1.35 per animal unit month, or the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month. The figure is adjusted each year according to current private grazing land lease rates, beef cattle prices and the cost of livestock production. The $1.35 per AUM is the same level as it was in 2013.

Beyond paying a grazing fee, federal lands ranchers are responsible for managing the land and resources, including caring for wildlife habitat, managing noxious weeds, and decreasing potential wildfire fuels. While the relationship between the federal government and ranchers is a well-understood business agreement in most cases, for one Nevada the rancher, the relationship has turned south.

Over the past couple of weeks, the story of Cliven Bundy and his family’s decades’ old battle with the federal government has come to a head and a “Range War” has begun.

Bundy and his family previously held grazing permits on approximately 600,000 acres in an area owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management called Gold Butte. In 1998, this land was declared habitat for the desert tortoise, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act, making it off limits for cattle grazing.

The Bundy’s battle with the BLM started five years earlier. The family stopped paying the federal grazing fee for the land in 1993. According to Bundy, he owes, but refuses to pay, the federal government back-fees totaling approximately $300,000. BLM, however, estimates that figure is more than $1 million.

In July 2013, Bundy was issued a third Court Order directing him to remove his livestock from the land within 45 days. If the animals were not removed, according to the Order, they could be seized by the BLM. Since that time, the family refused to comply with the Order.

"Cattle have been in trespass on public lands in southern Nevada for more than two decades. This is unfair to the thousands of other ranchers who graze livestock in compliance with federal laws and regulations throughout the West,” the BLM website announced. “An impoundment of cattle illegally grazing on public lands is now being conducted as a last resort."

The round-up and seizure of cattle began last week, and as of April 7, the BLM had impounded 134 head of Bundy’s 908 “trespass cattle.” To call it a smooth process, though, would be a stretch as the round-up has included armed security from the federal government, hundreds of supporters of the Bundy’s cause, an arrest of one of Bundy’s 14 children and vows from Bundy to do “whatever it takes” to protect his cattle from seizure. Both the Bundy family and the BLM have cited threats being made against them, neither appear to be backing down and emotions are running high.

So who’s at fault? Is this another case of the federal government trampling the rights of individual citizens? Or are the Bundy’s at fault while the feds try to enforce 20-years of violation of the law? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. If the family has held grazing permits for generations, they should know the rules they are expected to follow – the rules that thousands of other ranchers comply with each day. However, it’s unclear why such force by the federal government is necessary to enforce the law.

Federal lands’ ranching has a rich heritage and continues to be a driving force in rural economies across the West. These ranch families not only raise and care for livestock, but they also provide critical care to vast portions of the land, water and resources across the West. This one case involving the Bundy family and BLM may be grabbing headlines across the country, but it is not indicative of the overall industry. And let’s hope it doesn’t come to define federal lands ranching.

That would be a true loss. 

What do you think? Leave us a comment below. 

Prev 1 2 Next All

Comments (42) Leave a comment 

e-Mail (required)


characters left

47868  |  April, 10, 2014 at 06:14 AM

On it's face in looks like the rancher just quit paying on the lease in 93. However there may be things that the Government has done to cause the rancher to quit paying. As it is now very few Americans trust our Government.

April, 11, 2014 at 09:39 AM

See Reagan’s interview with Helen. Helen knew what she was talking about. The BLM controls over 60% of all of the land within her home State of Idaho. The BLM controls over 70% of all land in Utah; and in the State of Nevada, the BLM controls over 76% of all land. We are moving quickly to that. The Bureau of land Management is taking onto themselves law enforcement authority that Congress never gave them. In the Federal Land Policy and Management Act that was passed in the early 1970's it made it clear that Congress said that, first, you must go to your local county sheriff for law enforcement activities. For those of us who still labor under the conviction that the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land, it must be observed that the only crimes assigned to the federal government in the Constitution for law enforcement purposes are Treason, Piracy, Counterfeiting, and International law violations. That's it! All other law enforcement matters are the purview of the individual states, according to the Tenth Amendment."

Jackson DeLand    
April, 10, 2014 at 08:01 AM

Cattle = habitat for other animals. Environmental bunny huggers = wildlife destruction. Learn the "Savanna Concept" for wildlife development.

NY  |  April, 10, 2014 at 08:49 AM

I think the BLM claim doesn't hold water. The Bundy family has grazed their cattle on that land for more than 100 years. If the cattle are really a danger to the tortoise, as the BLM claims, then the tortoise would have been wiped out decades ago. My understanding about Cliven Bundy's refusal to pay grazing fees to the BLM, is that once he realized the BLM was actively seeking to put him out of business, he couldn't see giving them money to continue to fund their activities. I understand he still pays grazing fees to the State of Nevada. No, the claim about the tortoise is a red herring, especially given that the BLM has been euthanizing many of the tortoises themselves. There's obviously more to this story than we know. The BLM is after that land for some other reason.

Bill Collins    
Paris,Texas  |  April, 10, 2014 at 08:52 AM

Lets see, 600,000 acres,908 head of cows. That is one cow to 660 acres. 640 acres = a square mile. I am wondering how that would have any effect on the tortoise, good or bad. Just one more way the Government is moving to take our freedom. Just a little nip here and there and one day we wake up with nothing.

Wisconsin  |  April, 10, 2014 at 09:29 AM

Cliven Bundy is a anti-government nut-case who has refused to pay his grazing fees. This is a battle that has been going on for far too long, and the more "support" he gets from the ranching community, the more of a black eye it will given legitimate producers who play by the rules. He is using the anti-government fervor to whip up support among a fringe group of off-the-hook lunatics (just read some of the comments from web sites carrying this story). Bundy's arguments are much like those folks who don't pay income taxes because they read somewhere on the internet that they can claim some "right." Folks, I am a farmer, and there are many battles we can wage against undue government and environmental regulations and laws...but this isn't one of them. Bundy's rhetoric is whipping up a frenzy among the tin-foil-hat crowd, and will ultimately damage hard-working and honest producers. He has lost, time and again, but now thinks he has the "little old me vs. the big bad government" argument will gain traction. It won't, and he will be a "celebrity" among his followers...and the best recruiting tool EVER for those who want to permanently end grazing on BLM lands..."See, ranchers like Cliven Bundy game the system and destroy our Earth"...I can see it now. Don't think it won't happen.

MO  |  April, 10, 2014 at 09:42 AM

Mr. Bundy I am sure is well aware the government leviathan owns hundreds of millions of acres and it is never enough. What Mr. Bundy does not know, is they will shoot him down in a heartbeat should he make one false move. Regardless, his business will be destroyed by government hook or crook. There is simply no such thing as private property anymore. Not only does Bundy pay for the lease but he pays rent to the government annually in the form of taxes for all the deeded acreage. The same goes for personal property--we pay rent to the government for all of it only they call it a tax.

April, 10, 2014 at 09:46 AM

You have no idea since you have never ranched in his part of the country. Here is tip: the government is filled with nutcases too. You need to cease with the childish name-calling and get off your progressive high-horse.

Heather Kingdon    
Taylorsville, Ca  |  April, 10, 2014 at 10:00 AM

What is occurring here is the nightmare of our fears- the ranching/private property owners- water right holders. This is the "push come to shove" and nothing good will come of it. To be law abiding and follow the rules is a good thing.. How ever when it is clear that Today there is lurking behind this push by the Gov. a force that only wants what we have with no compensation. The Center for Biological Diversity is openly suing FWS to enforce more and more listings of endangered species ... All to gain their corridors for wild life with NO humans! So label us Nuts and call us Crazy , but those of us experiencing this onslaught are really feeling each bite, each death.. Please do not minimize what is happening throughout the west by saying the one man is nuts.

NC  |  April, 10, 2014 at 10:01 AM

I suspect that there is more to the story than has been printed, but during the past decade or so I have developed a deep distrust of government authority. It is so much easier for our current dictatorship to spend manpower on problems such as this that pose no risk to law enforcement personnel whatsoever than to actually go after violent criminals. On the surface of this story--which is all I have read--Bundy should have continued to pay his rent, but I can't help identifying with his point of view

Montana  |  April, 10, 2014 at 10:12 AM

We really don't have enough information to make this call, though it is certainly possible. WHY did he stop paying his grazing fees?? How can a journalist write an article without getting some answers to that question. If he is an anti-government nut, then that is one thing, if he has been wronged, as so many have by our government, then we should have that story as well.

April, 10, 2014 at 10:53 AM

When the rights of one are violated, the rights of all of us are violated. That he leases makes no difference. I know for a fact that the earth and animal liberators do not recognize deeded land either. Communistic principles in 16 USC sec. 1533 (b)(2)'s ad hoc balance did not become apparent until the prairie chicken land grab surfaced. The policy set out in the ESA violates the fundamental humans-first policy of the US Constitution and the Congress never had the authority to change the Constitutional public policy that way. Forcing Americans to compete with animals de-humanizes us ala the common good, a concept that Ayn Rand warns brings subhuman misery and enslavement. The US Constt does more than set out a random set of fundamental rights to which only the worst criminals in the US receive. It defines and mandates our humanity. The Federalist Papers speak of sacred individual rights and refer to a Creator. The Federalist Papers say that the whole Constt is fundamental, and laws contrary thereto are null and void. We all get fundamental rights. If the rancher is denied his rights, ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for all 315 million of us.

Kansas  |  April, 10, 2014 at 11:02 AM

Chris - Mr. Bundy has claimed an historic right to graze these lands. His claim has been rejected by multiple courts. This is truly an unfortunate situation where I don't think whole blame can be placed on either party. One would think that a peaceful resolution could have been reached through compromise and negotiation 20 years ago instead of the situation playing out as we see it. The federal government, especially in recent years, has caved to environmental activists' threats and lawsuits - and that appears to be a big piece of this issue with regard to the tortoise. And I still can't wrap my head around why such force by the government is necessary. On the flip side, the Bundy's don't appear to have been willing to come to the table either. I had a college professor (who happens to be well known for having strong opinions and sticking to his convictions) once say that compromise is not a dirty word - maybe 20 years ago had there been more effort to compromise there wouldn't be the situation there is today. Thank you for your comment, and we'll continue to post updates as this issue unfolds.

AZ  |  April, 10, 2014 at 11:05 AM

You would think that our Government would be more concerned with Illegals coming into our country, trespassing on private property, killing Border Patrol, than cattle on Public Land. We are the government and it is our Land. Bundy doesn't stand a chance, but I believe in the point he and his family are making. This could soon be any Rancher without provocation. Turtles? Really?

Marla Flint    
Texas  |  April, 10, 2014 at 01:20 PM

This is coming to a theater near many of us soon. Farmers and ranchers in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas are looking at the lesser prairie chicken being designated as an Endangered Species. What kind of restrictions is that going to place on so many of us? If you're not familiar with the eco-nuts "Sue and Settle" system, look it up. That's what is behind so much of this tyrannical overreach.

Wyoming  |  April, 10, 2014 at 01:30 PM

While legally the Bundy's don't have much to go on, hopefully this is a start on the conversation about the Feds trying to manage 3/4's of the Mountain West. Its only fed land because the understanding of eastern agricultural practices collided with the reality of the west in the homestead act. At present taxpayers pay an incredibly sum of money to feed and manage feral horses who still manage to destroy the rangeland. Our energy policy is held hostage to sage hen that is not even at risk and it takes the BLM millions to round up 900 head of cattle worth a tenth of what their spending under the auspices of protecting a turtle that isn't even threatened by their presence. As a side note does it not scare everyone that the BLM feels like it has to mobilize 200 armed snipers to deal with a few hundred mama cows on a tiny portion of the land they manage. Hopefully this is a wake-up call to the wisdom of the feds continuing to own and manage most of the west.

Sheep Farmer    
Nor CA  |  April, 10, 2014 at 01:35 PM

Most excellent and concise point!

Arizona  |  April, 10, 2014 at 02:06 PM

This sounds reminiscent of the Hage Takings case. After 23 years trying to hold their water rights and was deprived of any compensation for their water rights and improvement . See "Enemies of the State" by fox news. there is a big push by gov. to control all water and what ever they deem their right to take from people who have tried to make a living on the land.

Tennessee  |  April, 10, 2014 at 08:11 PM

I am origionally from Nevada. I would bet money that the BLM wants that land for Mining Contracts

A cattle man also    
upper midwest  |  April, 10, 2014 at 08:42 PM

Typical government---here they are buying up land-----or rather having "conservation" groups purchase it and then resale to gov when the counties won't sanction the purchase and then even destroy in this one case an original never plowed prairie oak savanna. They are wanting NO cattle in or around lakes rivers, sloughs ---I also distrust government and feel that they need to take the needs of the people for FOOD for instance and treat the people who are raising it with MORE respect --- BLM is like our government "officials???" who can't compromise either!!

david scott    
galena, kansas  |  April, 10, 2014 at 10:12 PM

I think this is another way our government is operating these days, I don't think the bundys just decided to stop paying grazing fees, especially at those rates, sure wish I was closer to federal grazing

az  |  April, 11, 2014 at 09:28 AM

how much does he pay / month for leasing 600,000 acres?

April, 11, 2014 at 09:35 AM

You are woefully ignorant ! Name it and claim it - Blab it and grab it (BLM & the feds) "Cliven Bundy’s family has been grazing cattle on their ranchland since the 1880s. But in 1993, the federal government reclassified 600,000 acres of land, including the land that the Bundy cattle have been grazing on forever. The pretext used by the feds for seizing the land was to protect some “endangered” tortoise. However, the feds would allow Cliven to continue to graze his cattle on the land--IF he pays the federal government for the privilege. The rancher refuses to pay."

April, 11, 2014 at 09:41 AM

Here's the link to more

USA  |  April, 11, 2014 at 10:02 AM

Any time it gets nasty and private enterprise is fighting with the federales, my loyalty falls with private enterprise every time. You can not trust any government BLM employee's word or motive, nor a communist, tax assessor, township trustee, highway patrol, licensing bureau, tax collector, bureaucrat, government inspector, muslim politician, state veterinarian, democrat, liberal, Hollywood director, David Letterman, abortion clinic, welfare recipient, sea food importers located near nuclear power plants in Japan, or Russian leaders. The federales do not know how to own, manage, liquidate or profitably use ranch land or other things.

USA  |  April, 11, 2014 at 10:02 AM

Any time it gets nasty and private enterprise is fighting with the federales, my loyalty falls with private enterprise every time. You can not trust any government BLM employee's word or motive, nor a communist, tax assessor, township trustee, highway patrol, licensing bureau, tax collector, bureaucrat, government inspector, muslim politician, state veterinarian, democrat, liberal, Hollywood director, David Letterman, abortion clinic, welfare recipient, sea food importers located near nuclear power plants in Japan, or Russian leaders. The federales do not know how to own, manage, liquidate or profitably use ranch land or other things.

Idaho  |  April, 11, 2014 at 10:29 AM

Actually...the LAWYERS always win these wars!

mid florida  |  April, 11, 2014 at 11:28 AM

THis comes pretty close to my sentiments exactly. Ya gotta pay if want to play. I think he should be forced to follow the rules.

daniel mcamoil    
Kansas  |  April, 12, 2014 at 08:06 AM

My understanding from a area rancher friend said over the past 125 years the family owned a large amount of that 600,000 acres.. The govt. came in "to help" manage it for a small fee.. Over the years the control,, and " ownership" shifted.. and the start of all the trouble... We had the option to sign up a large percent of our farm ground into CRP years ago and I did not for reasons above.. I dont trust our govt anymore..

Wyo  |  April, 12, 2014 at 08:20 AM

REAL story is how one old rancher demonstrates more intestinal fortitude than ALL elected representatives put together. One old rancher does more to stand up to government aggression than all the lawyers ever born. Go Cliven

Mike Christensen    
Emery  |  April, 12, 2014 at 09:07 AM

This war isnt about paying fees, it's about environmentalists taking gazing rights for turtles that have co existed for more than 100 years

NE  |  April, 12, 2014 at 01:02 PM

Right or wrong...good for that guy standing up against our commonsenseless gorvernment. Only thing I found hilarious is how weak the Cattlemens Association again showed themselves to be by not going to touch this thing. What a joke.

SD  |  April, 12, 2014 at 02:56 PM

In our area it is the prairie dog. We need a plan that can be actually put into use for citizens to take back our land and lives. If someone can do that, we could organize a grass roots way to stop this type of action by the Game and Fish, the Forrest Service and the BLM.

henderson  |  April, 12, 2014 at 10:45 PM

It looks like the feds don't have a spine to carry out what they started. Bundy has been living off of the peoples land long enough. It not his but all of ours and there needs to be keepers of this land. If Bundy doesn't abide by the rules then he should suffer the consequences, plain and simple. If the feds back down, then it's going to open the land up to anyone to use as they see fit which could cause problems down the road.

MT  |  April, 13, 2014 at 01:41 AM

Would anyone like to point out to me the portion of the United States Constitution which entitles the federal government to large tracts of land? I believe it is well stated in article one, section eight, clause seventeen. The federal government is trespassing on state land. The endangered species act, the clean water act and other such legislation were never intended to do their stated purpose. These acts are intended to take your private property without paying for it. If you don't believe it, then you probably believe that your food comes from the grocery store.

Boston  |  April, 13, 2014 at 03:21 AM

That comes from the Constitution Article IV, Section 3: "The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State." Then there's the Nevada Constitution: "In obedience to the requirements of an act of the Congress of the United States, approved March twenty-first, A.D. eighteen hundred and sixty-four, to enable the people of Nevada to form a constitution and state government, this convention, elected and convened in obedience to said enabling act, do ordain as follows, and this ordinance shall be irrevocable, without the consent of the United States and the people of the State of Nevada: Third. That the people inhabiting said territory do agree and declare, that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States; "

SD  |  April, 13, 2014 at 04:05 PM

Between the heavy hand of government agencies and the jealous and emvious among the populace, it is amazing, and encouraging, to see the level of support for the rancher in this case. Those land issues in the western states have a long history of problems, and federal agencies/employees/and elected officials seem unwilling to settle it with any justice for people, or adherence to our Constitution. Now, what well may be the REAL 'fly in the ointment' causing the increased desire by the federal government to take over that land: the interests in developing possible energy sources, whether solar, wind, or whatever. Controlled by the Chinese, or others. And involving a son of Sen. Harry Reid. Should we be surprised?????

Colorado  |  April, 13, 2014 at 08:05 PM

There's a mere handful of individuals in the U.S. who really have a grip on what constitutes private particular on federal land. This is not taught in higher Ed, so the un-informed comments herein are forgivable. The in-formed are praised, for it takes a ton of research and listening to discern.

Kentucky cattle farmer    
April, 14, 2014 at 08:02 AM

Environmental interest should be of concern to each and every one of us for obvious reasons. We all have rules and regulations to follow and sometimes it is in our best interest and that of others to'suck it up' and follow these rules and laws. Unfortunatly, We do not live in an isolated society any more. On our cattle farming operations, some acres owned and some rented/ leased, We try to follow this way of thinking and operating.

ks  |  April, 14, 2014 at 09:06 AM

@Roni, Tell us where to start looking.

New Mexico USA  |  April, 14, 2014 at 12:49 PM

Big problem.....easy solution....give all public land to state...bundy or any other public range rancher have no problem with their own state....all new states were to come into union with same conditions as first 13...:Texas Oklahoma Kansas ect....state of nev.colo.ariz should get their land back

Nevada  |  April, 14, 2014 at 11:50 PM

Where did you get 150.00. Its 1.35 per aum. Do you even know what an aum is?

RTV-X Series Utility Vehicles

Get ready for a whole new RTV experience. Kubota RTVs have been the best-selling diesel utility vehicles in North America since ... Read More

View all Products in this segment

View All Buyers Guides

Feedback Form
Leads to Insight