Clark County rancher Cliven Bundy, accused of allowing his cattle to illegally graze federal lands, is fueling the anti-BLM fire in Pahrump by garnering support from his Nye County neighbors to oppose the federal authority.
Though Bundy is not a resident of Nye County, he has enlisted the County Commission to be front-runners in changing national policing authority through constitutional flag-waving.
Bundy has the ear of Nye Commissioner Donna Cox, who has spearheaded a local effort to disempower BLM’s authority over county lands. With the help of the Bundys, Cox has drafted a resolution, scheduled to be presented to the full commission for a vote, which “supports any and all actions to legally relieve the federal government of ownership, control and jurisdiction” over Nye County public lands.
Though originally drafted with the intention of opposing further restrictions by the BLM over Nye County lands, the current draft seeks to thwart any federal say-so over county lands. The draft also demands that the federal government transfer their interest and authority in public lands to the state of Nevada.
Bundy is no stranger to legal entanglements.
A stand-off between federally authorized police agencies and Bundy supporters occurred at his Bunkerville ranch in April. That showdown, and the messaging of constitutional integrity and authority, has resonated from the Bundy ranch into Nye County.
It is likely that the commission will throw their political weight at BLM and other federal authorities, if not through the passage of the resolution, then through the 17-county Nevada land management task force recommendation that federally managed lands be transferred to the state of Nevada. That is according to Nye County Commission Chairperson Lorinda Wichman, who was assigned to represent Nye County as a member of the task force.
It appears as though both bodies, the county commission and the state task force, want the same thing. Wichman acknowledged that the resolution does not have any power. It is merely a recommendation. She would rather support a measure that has the force of law behind it, she said.
The recommendation will be presented to the Legislative committee on public lands for the congressional transfer in February, Wichman said.
Wichman said she would like to see management of public lands be transferred to the state for a variety of reasons.
“My neighbors are ranchers and miners,” said Wichman, who lives on a ranch in the northern county. “All of northern Nye County is completely dependent on ranching and mining and the use of natural resources. The people who live in Nye County know Nye County better than anyone else.”
Wichman also said a land management authority transfer would save taxpayer money. Instead of traveling to Washington, D.C. to “do battle” over land issues, she would only have to travel to Carson City.
Bundy explained his advisory-role capacity for the Nye County resolution as two-fold. He is adamant that he is not trying to incite a revolution. The media has vilified him, he said, and made him sound “anti-American.”
“I love our country. I pledge allegiance to the flag. I think we have the very best form of government in the whole world. I know we do,” Bundy said.
He said he is trying to educate residents about the proper role of a constitutional government.
He is also hopeful, he said, that the passage of the resolution will spur a movement throughout the country in which the local county sheriff is recognized as the ultimate policing authority.
Cox said she is introducing the measure as means to protect Nye County residents from what she deems as a “great big land grab” via BLM proposed revisions to the Southern Nevada District Office Resource Management Plan.
“We should have control over what goes on in our county,” she said.
Cox said she involved Bundy as an advisor because of his 20-year battle with the BLM and because “his property” is affected by the resource management plan.
Once the resolution passes, Cox said, the next step implements an ordinance enforceable by the Nye County sheriff.
Cox agrees with Bundy.
“What Nye County does will be looked at by other counties and other states,” she predicts.
Should the county resolution pass and the state task force recommendation be implemented by Congress, that does not put an end to Bundy’s legal woes. The United States District Court issued a decision on Oct. 8, 2013, ordering Bundy to remove his livestock from the Bunkerville Allotment (federal grazing lands). The decision also gives the United States the authority to seize any of his cattle that remain on the property.
Bundy’s son, Ryan Bundy, is undeterred by the ruling and maintains that the ruling court does not have authority to impose or enforce the law. Bundy’s 500-head cross-bred herd remain at large on the public land. “Right where they’ve always been,” he said.
Since the Bundys recognize the county sheriff as a police and arresting authority, they were asked whether they would comply with a sheriff’s directive to cease the proclaimed trespass of cattle on public lands. Both said yes; as long as the sheriff “stood on constitutional law.”
The Bundys refute the validity of a federal court order, without a state judge endorsed writ of execution. As things stand, they claim, it would be a sheriff’s error if they attempt to enforce the current federal order.
Bundy also disputes that any grazing fees are owed to the federal government. They say they never signed a lease or a contract with the BLM. Ryan Bundy said every rancher who has signed a contract with the BLM is now out of business.
Bundy claims that the BLM’s primary goal is to eliminate use of public lands by ranchers.
“We don’t claim ownership of the land. We don’t claim ownership of the minerals in the land. We claim ownership to the water and we claim ownership of the feed that grows on the land. Those natural resources are protected by state law. If I own something, why would I pay someone else to manage it?” he asked.
It all comes down to police power, Bundy said. “They (federal government) are trying to prove to the American people and to the world that they have unlimited policing power,” he said.
The Bundys say they will continue to ranch while standing on constitutional principles. “We see Nye County about to make one of the greatest steps that America has ever made,” he said.
Natalie Collins of the United States Attorney’s Office said that Cliven Bundy has not been criminally charged in district court over the issue nor are there any current federal criminal charges pending against him. Collins did say, however, that Department of Justice policy does not allow her to confirm or deny the existence of an ongoing investigation.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Nye County Commission is scheduled at the Commissioners Chambers located 210o E. Walt Williams Drive, in Pahrump on Jan. 20 at 10 a.m.