Lifelong Southern Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, recently cleared of federal charges and freed from jail after nearly two years, has turned his sights on state and county government.
In a lawsuit filed Jan. 25 in Clark County District Court, Bundy claimed that then-President Barack Obama’s late 2016 establishment of Gold Butte National Monument, which occurred while the rancher was in federal custody, was “as illegal as it is unlawful” and would preclude him from continuing to function on his land and destroy his livelihood.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials in Las Vegas postponed discussion of the monument at meetings last month until the Trump administration decides on possible changes to the Obama-era land designation.
“Recognizing that the land is not owned by the United States of America, (Bundy) has avoided erroneously giving money to an entity which does not actually own the land and has been careful not to give money erroneously to a stranger to the land,” according to the rancher’s lawsuit.
“Thus, there is an actual, significant legal controversy of great consequence not only to petitioner in terms of as to whom has ownership and jurisdiction of the land but to People of Nevada and Clark County, the rightful owners of Nevada land.”
The complaint was filed by attorney Kelsey Bernstein of Las Vegas and Larry Klayman, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who was blocked from joining Bundy’s criminal defense team by U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro.
Last month, just days after Navarro dismissed charges against Bundy, two of his sons and another man, the 71-year-old stood outside Metropolitan Police Department headquarters and suggested that in Clark County, Sheriff Joe Lombardo is more powerful than the president. Bundy called on the sheriff to defend him.
Bundy’s lawsuit, which seeks a declaration that public lands in the state are owned by the residents, reflects the sentiment.
“The current leaders and government officials of the State of Nevada and its subdivision, Clark County, refuse to defend its or the People’s rights to all lands within Nevada’s and Clark County’s borders,” reads the complaint, which does not directly name any county or state officials.
Navarro’s decision ended a trial over the April 2014 armed standoff in Bunkerville, which occurred after federal agents tried to execute a court order to round up Bundy’s cattle. The attempt stemmed from a decades-long dispute over grazing fees.
Bundy, whose family set down roots in the Nevada desert more than 141 years ago, has long claimed that the land on which he grazes his cattle should not be claimed by the federal government. In his lawsuit, Bundy states that he “lawfully acquired grazing, water and other rights to the lands in question.”
After charges against him were thrown out, Bundy noted that the court order remained in effect and the cattle were still being grazed on the vast acreage around his ranch. The suit estimates Bundy’s livestock at 1,000 head, which graze on 160 acres of private land, along with “300,000 acres of unclaimed land belonging to the People of Nevada and Clark County.”
The suit continues: “Nevada owes a duty to vindicate and defend its rights, its people’s rights, and the petitioner’s right to the land, including petitioner’s right of quiet enjoyment of Nevada’s land use lawfully by the petitioner for grazing rights.”