Cliven Bundy, the infamous Nevada rancher who has been cleared of all charges after an armed standoff with federal agents in 2014, continues to insist that public lands belong to the states and not the federal agencies that maintain them. Some observers of the case have dismissed this assertion, including Bartrum who stated that “constitutional doctrine, well-settled in the Supreme Court, expressly recognizes the federal government’s power to acquire, retain and regulate” property within a state.”
The fight over public lands and the land rights that allow citizens to use them for animal grazing is not a new problem but is a struggle that many ranchers have dealt with their entire careers. The Bunkerville standoff has brought national attention to federal misconduct and misuse of public land and has raised questions about how these lands should be utilized.
The trial was dismissed after U.S. District Judge Navarro cited “flagrant prosecutorial misconduct.” The prosecutors refused to turn over evidence including surveillance of the Bundy ranch. The Washington Times reported that Bureau of Land Management agent Dan Love gave orders to seize the cattle and authorized bullying tactics, which lead to the standoff of what was otherwise peaceful protests. Eyewitnesses were willing to testify that no ranchers threatened violence, rather citing government officials as the ones who pulled weapons and threaten to fire on the crowd.
In March of 1994, the ranch owners issued a check to Clark Country in the entire amount that would clear the family’s debt. The check was returned with instructions to pay the BLM. The Bundy ranch was then restricted from using its property rights after the BLM decided it was to be the protected land of an endangered Tortoise species.
The Clark County Department of Finance Controller Guy S. Hobbs sent a letter stating, “Although Clark County is ultimately a recipient of fees for the (Bunkerville) Grazing District, the direct payee is the Federal Government… As we do not know how the breakdown is calculated or what portion is retained in the process, it is necessary for you to continue submitting your fees directly to them.”
After the incident in 2014, Bundy faced multiple felony charges including conspiracy and impeding federal officers.
The Bundys now seem to have moved their fight to Oregon, where the federal government (and the Bureau of Land Management) claims more than half of the land. In earlier eras of the country’s growth, these otherwise wastelands were used by citizens for farming and economic purposes. It is only later that a new focus for environmental issues and land conservation replaced these ideals.
What we are watching today is a continuation of the Sagebrush Rebellion, in which ranchers in western states have fought to keep their livelihood in the sparsely populated areas. Looking at the weathered face of the Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy is like looking into the past when rugged cowboys roamed the prairies and cattle lands across America. These people are the backbone of our traditions and our remaining ties to the past glory of the wild west. It is the stuff of the old westerns of Gunsmoke and Bonanza.
**Did the BLM send a militarized force upon the American People?** **NEVER BEFORE SEEN VIDEO**
Today at 1pm… https://t.co/TIpFuAZw0y
— Bundy Ranch (@BundyRanch) January 9, 2018
Judge Navarro ruled that a new trial would give an unfair advantage to the prosecution, and Cliven Bundy has been released from jail. Four ranch hands were also found not guilty of conspiracy and multiple weapons charges as a result of the standoff. It is unclear how this will end and if the Bundy ranch will be able to continue to use their grazing land rights. It does seem clear to Mr. Bundy that it will be the state of Nevada, not the federal government who decides.
Being cleared of these very serious charges is a clear indication that the federal government can be wrong, and it is when citizens stand up for their rights that one’s rights are properly enacted. Otherwise, what previous generations understood as basic rights will become what future citizens view as privileges that are bestowed upon them from above as if we have returned to a feudalistic society of a ruling class and the commoners. Rather, this is the land of free people who govern themselves.