LAS VEGAS (CBS Las Vegas/AP) – After a tense standoff with the Bureau of Land Management, the Nevada Rancher at the center of the disagreement proclaimed that “the citizens of America” got his cattle back.
Rancher Cliven Bundy reached a deal with the BLM Saturday allowing the cattle that had been removed from the BLM land to be released back onto the federal lands. But Bundy is still on the hook for the fees he owes for having the animals on the land in the first place.
“There is no deal here. The citizens of America and Clark County went and took their cattle. There was no negotiations. They took these cattle. They are in possession of these cattle and I expect them to come home soon,” Bundy told KLAS-TV.
The standoff Saturday brought hundreds of protesters who attempted to storm the BLM’s cattle gate, but weren’t successful. Some protesters were even armed with weapons.
I-15 was closed in both directions at one point because protesters were blocking the freeway. Roughly two dozen police officers and a SWAT unit were at the scene in Mesquite to help keep the peace.
“We had a lot of fears. Individuals being shot, trampled. Individuals being run over on the highway. So it took a lot of resources, a lot of resources to associate with this,” Assistant Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said to KLAS-TV.
The fight between Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management widened into a debate about states’ rights and federal land-use policy. The dispute that ultimately triggered the roundup dates to 1993, when the bureau cited concern for the federally protected tortoise in the region. The bureau revoked Bundy’s grazing rights after he stopped paying grazing fees and disregarded federal court orders to remove his animals.
Kornze’s announcement came after Bundy repeatedly promised to “do whatever it takes” to protect his property and after a string of raucous confrontations between his family members and supporters and federal agents during the weeklong operation.
Bundy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a statement praising the agency for its willingness to listen to the state’s concerns. He earlier criticized the agency for creating “an atmosphere of intimidation” and trying to confine protesters to a fenced-in “First Amendment area” well away from the sprawling roundup area.
“The safety of all individuals involved in this matter has been my highest priority,” Sandoval said. “Given the circumstances, today’s outcome is the best we could have hoped for.”
Nevada’s congressional delegation urged the protesters to be calm and to leave the area.
“The dispute is over, the BLM is leaving, but emotions and tensions are still near the boiling point, and we desperately need a peaceful conclusion to this conflict,” U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said in a statement. “I urge all the people involved to please return to your homes and allow the BLM officers to collect their equipment and depart without interference.”
The 400 cows gathered during the roundup were short of the BLM’s goal of 900 cows that it says have been trespassing on U.S. land without required grazing permits for over 20 years.
Bundy, 67, doesn’t recognize federal authority on land he insists belongs to Nevada. His Mormon family has operated a ranch since the 1870s near the small town of Bunkerville and the Utah and Arizona lines.
“Good morning America, good morning world, isn’t it a beautiful day in Bunkerville?” Bundy told a cheering crowd after his cattle were released, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The crowd protesting Saturday recited the pledge of allegiance, and many offered prayers. Others waved placards reading, “This land is your land,” and “We teach our children not to bully. How do we teach our government not to be big bullies?” according to the newspaper.
It’s the latest skirmish since the 1980s when the Sagebrush Rebellion challenged federal ownership of Nevada rangeland ranchers said was rightfully theirs.
A federal judge in Las Vegas first ordered Bundy to remove his trespassing cattle in 1998. The bureau was implementing two federal court orders last year to remove Bundy’s cattle after making repeated efforts to resolve the matter outside court, Kornze said, adding the rancher has not paid grazing fees in 20 years.
“This is a matter of fairness and equity, and we remain disappointed that Cliven Bundy continues to not comply with the same laws that 16,000 public-lands ranchers do every year,” Kornze said. “After 20 years and multiple court orders to remove the trespass cattle, Mr. Bundy owes the American taxpayers in excess of $1 million. The BLM will continue to work to resolve the matter administratively and judicially.”
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