Area officials criticized the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as heavy-handed in their reactions to the standoff over Clark County rancher Cliven Bundy’s cattle roundup.
The BLM began seizing cattle Bundy had grazed near Bunkerville, claiming they were disrupting desert tortoise habitat. Bundy had been grazing his herds on public land for decades but stopped paying grazing fees 20 years ago out of protest. A court finally ordered the seizure of Bundy’s cattle for his failing to pay. But the BLM backed off on the seizure Saturday after taking 380 head of cattle, which were released onto federal land after protesters stormed the corral where they were being held.
The seizure drew militia members from throughout the country and garnered national media attention.
“Today we announced the decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our grave concern about the safety of employees and members of the public,” the BLM said in a statement Saturday afternoon. “This afternoon demonstrators gathered at the area where personnel and cattle were located. Due to escalating tensions, the cattle have been released from the enclosures in order to avoid violence and help restore order.”
“Safety has always been our number one priority and the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service appreciate the support of those who called for a peaceful conclusion to the operation.”
U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., issued a statement Saturday afternoon stating he held discussions with State Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka and Assemblyman James Oscarson, R-Nev., who represent this area in the Legislature, the Mesquite mayor and city manager, Assemblyman Crescent Hardy, R-Mesquite, Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins, Moapa Valley town board chairman and the Moapa Valley water district board manager, BLM district manager and state director, a representative from the National Park Service and State Sen. Joe Hardy’s office.
Horsford’s office said the congressman and the participants agreed a plan must be drafted to defuse the situation; they urged the BLM to communicate to the public any details about the dismantling of the operation. The BLM agreed it was important to prevent potential misinformation about the demobilization. Horsford urged federal, state and local officials to ensure BLM assets are safely removed without any further disruption.
Members of the discussion agreed the BLM and Department of Interior should meet with a group of local stakeholders as the operation ends.
“In addition, meeting participants agreed that there should be a review of First Amendment concerns, grazing rights and public lands issues in this particular situation to ensure that all rights of residents affected are protected in the future. This will require involving county and state officials in creating a better line of communication between federal agencies and local electeds,” Horsford concluded.
Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a statement that said, “the safety of all individuals involved in this matter has been my highest priority. Given the circumstances, today’s outcome is the best we could have hoped for. I appreciate that the Department of the Interior and the BLM were willing to listen to the concerns of the people of Nevada.”
In a Friday statement before the conclusion of the operation, Oscarson, who is originally from Logandale, not far from the gather, said “I am extremely concerned about the aggressive actions by the BLM toward the citizens of Nevada who are protesting in the Bunkerville and Moapa Valley areas. I have personally met with Governor Sandoval and conveyed the concerns of the residents of these areas to him. I am confident that he and our state legislators that represent those areas are actively engaged to ensure the safety and security of those exercising their constitutional rights.
Hardy, a candidate for the fourth congressional district, said, “the events surrounding Cliven Bundy’s cattle are unfortunate and reflect a long-standing problem with federal government overreach.” He also spoke with the governor about the manner in which BLM handled it.
“From free speech to property rights and from the role of government to Second Amendment rights, a lot is at stake. I fully support the rights of both Nevada residents and the Americans that have traveled from near and far to peacefully protest how their government chooses winners and losers. I have been a vocal leader in the effort to return more of Nevada’s land currently held by the federal government to the rightful hands of Nevadans and will continue to do so in Congress,” Hardy said.
Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo said he never left Pahrump, but monitored the situation on television. He didn’t review Bundy’s case personally, but said the BLM handled the situation poorly. DeMeo commented about the reports of BLM snipers and helicopters, along with guns pointed at people.
DeMeo gave an interview to Fox News broadcast nationally about his experience with the BLM when it attempted to seize cattle belonging to Monitor Valley rancher the late Wayne Hage in 2004.
The sheriff said in that case a bureaucrat was writing seizure orders, which the courts said were illegal.
Hage posthumously won a court case against the U.S. Forest Service, which seized his cattle in the 1990s, the case is still on appeal. DeMeo said relations with the BLM later improved.
“Since I’ve been sheriff of Nye County not one head of cattle belonging to a rancher in Nye County was ever taken by an agent of a federal agency,” DeMeo said.
Regarding this latest incident, DeMeo sent an e-mail applauding Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie, who believed the best way to resolve the issue was through negotiation.
“The best way to resolve this is not through the gun but through the power of negotiation,” DeMeo said.