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Fodder for Thought

Nevada "Range War" Seems A Tough Story To Unravel

If nothing else, the Bundy ranch difficulties show how difficult it is to ranch in the West under the supervision of bureaucrats.


By now most of the nation is aware of the self-proclaimed "range war" brewing on the ranch of Cliven Bundy in Clark County, Nevada. The situation is complex, and like most complex issues it's hard to pinpoint who's in the right and who's in the wrong on this one. Throw in the various spins the talking heads of the media are taking on the story and we will likely never get a straight answer.

According to the federal government and recent reporting from ABC, the disagreement between Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been going on for 20 years. In 1993, grazing restrictions were issued for Bundy's public land allotment to protect the endangered desert tortoise. Bundy disagreed with the terms and continued grazing his cattle on public land.

Bundy takes the stance that his family has been managing this land well before the BLM was ever formed and he should not have to pay grazing fees to a government he does not recognize.  His dismissal of the new grazing permit terms then caused BLM to revoke his permit and eventually proceed with legal action, which brings us to the situation today.

Last night Cliven Bundy appeared via satellite feed for an interview on the Hannity Show (you can watch the interview HERE). Hannity showed a simplified timeline of the course of events leading up to the present with Bundy versus the BLM which I thought was useful to understand the key events in this mess:

  • 1993: Bundy ignores government fees
  • 1998: BLM revokes permit
  • 1998: Feds issue injunction
  • 2013: Order to impound cattle
  • 4-5-2014: Phase 1 of impoundment

After reading various media reports and watching YouTube videos on this topic, I decided since everyone else is giving their two cents on the matter, I would weigh in on it too.

I believe the in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and agree Bundy has a right to stand up for those things. I don't remember there being a "Bill of Grazing Rights." I also believe in the use of responsible range and pasture management. It is also my understanding the complex natural systems the ranching business has the benefit of using are a precious resource which is not as renewable as some would like to think. I would hope the Bundys also feel this way, but without having the opportunity to speak with them directly I can only guess they do.

In the past, I have shared my opinions on the issue of livestock grazing on public lands and what seems like a continued onslaught of environmental activist intervention into this practice. Given the fact the desert tortoise is involved, I suspect this is how Bundy's current situation may have started. When faced with an ultimatum by the BLM of reduced or eliminated livestock grazing on land that his family's ranch had grazed for well over a century, Bundy retaliated by refusing to pay his grazing fees and ignoring BLM's new terms.

This course of action likely wasn't an easy one to take and required a lot of gall to do. Bundy reacted in a way which many ranchers might wish they could to current situations going on with other wildlife conservation vs. livestock grazing issues such as sage grouse, bull trout, cutthroat trout. Whether it was the right course of action to take, I am not qualified to judge.

The situation has now progressed well beyond any simple resolution. The government says Bundy owes them over $1 million in past grazing and trespass fees. They have begun impounding his cattle and even arrested one of his sons, who has since been released.

This entire situation, if nothing else, should be a wake-up call for the rest of ranching business on the how far public lands grazing issues have the potential to progress and get out of hand if handled inappropriately.

Grazing rights are important. However, so are every other component that makes up the complex natural resources we manage -- plant, animal, and human. It's a fact improvements need to be made the whole way around – both on the ranchers' part and BLM and every other federal agency that deals with public lands grazing.

There is no "right to graze" written into the Constitution. The reason ranchers and land stewards get to do what they do is because of the land in the first place. Being responsible land stewards is a must for this way of life to continue. 

I am not siding with either Bundy or the BLM. This issue is too complex and we will never have all the facts to really say who was right. I can only wish the Bundy Ranch the best. I imagine this entire situation has been hard for the Bundy family.

Last, I hope the rest of those in the ranching business watch, learn and realize the potential these livestock grazing issues have to get out of hand. This seems especially poignant to those who have a major portion of their ranchland technically owned by the public at large and yet managed and controlled by bureaucrats.

Now more than ever, responsible and proper use of grazing management seems critical to the future sustainability of the ranching way of life.

The opinions of Jesse Bussard are not necessarily those of Beef Producer or the Penton Farm Progress Group.

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