Tension growing between ranchers, mustang backers

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Tensions bubbled over on the range in a
turf battle that has been simmering for decades over one of the icons
of the American West and scant forage on arid, high desert lands from
Nevada to Wyoming.
With the presence of wild horses continuing to
pit animal advocates against ranchers, the U.S. Bureau of Land
Management, which is caught in the middle, on Saturday began seizing
hundreds of cattle from a longtime rancher that it says are trespassing
on public land in southern Nevada.
The action came a day after the
agency agreed to remove horses from the range in southwest Utah after
Iron County commissioners threatened to take matters in their own hands.
protection advocates say the government is rounding up too many
mustangs while allowing livestock to feed at taxpayer expense on the
same rangeland scientists say is being overgrazed.
Ranchers say
the government refuses to gather enough horses in the herds that double
in size every five years while moving to confiscate cattle on lands
where their ancestors have operated for more than a century.
BLM says it’s doing all it can, given budget constraints, overflowing
holding pens and a distaste for the politically unpopular options of
either ending the costly roundups or slaughtering excess horses.
agency started taking cattle Saturday from Cliven Bundy, who it says
has been trespassing on U.S. land without required grazing permits for
over 25 years. Bundy doesn’t recognize federal authority on land he
insists belongs to Nevada.
"These people are thieves," Bundy told
The Associated Press on Saturday. "I haven’t even started fighting yet.
You think I’m going to lay down and just give up. I’m going to fight for
the Constitution and state sovereignty."
Asked what actions he
planned to take, Bundy replied, "Why don’t you wait and see. As I told
the BLM and county sheriff, ‘I’ll do whatever it takes.’"
spokeswoman Kirsten Cannon, in a media conference call Saturday
afternoon, said her agency was implementing two federal court orders to
remove Bundy’s cattle after making repeated efforts to resolve the
matter outside court.
Plans call for the removal of some 900
trespassing cattle from 1,200 square miles of land in southern Nevada
managed by her agency and the National Park Service over the next three
to four weeks, she said.
A federal judge in Las Vegas first
ordered Bundy to remove his trespassing cattle in 1998. Similar orders
were issued last July and again in October.
"(Bundy’s trespassing)
is unfair to the thousands of other ranchers who graze livestock in
compliance with federal laws and regulations in the West," Cannon said,
adding the agencies are working with local and state officials to ensure
the removal occurs in a safe manner.
She declined to comment on the number of personnel involved, and was unable to provide a cost estimate
for the operation.
who said he owns about 500 cows, estimates at least 100 federal agents
and other personnel, many of them armed, gathered around the ranch his
family has operated since the 1870s southwest of Mesquite a few miles
from the Utah line.
"I’ve tried to stop them for 20 years. I’ve
tried to be legal in the courts. I’ve tried to do it politically and
through the media. Now, it’s about down to having to do it as ‘We the
people,’" he said.
It’s a battle that has raged since the 1980s
when the Sagebrush Rebellion challenged federal ownership of Nevada
rangeland ranchers said was rightfully theirs.
During the past 10
years, horse advocates have been more the aggressors, asking courts to
block roundups they say violate the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro
Act of 1971. But in recent months, ranchers have again gone back on the
The Nevada Farm Bureau Federation and Nevada Association
of Counties sued the government in U.S. District Court in Reno in
December seeking to force the BLM to step up roundups and, if necessary,
sell excess mustangs for slaughter — something they say is allowed
under the law but that the federal agency has resisted.
this week, a federal magistrate judge in Reno granted horse advocates’
request to become a party in that case based on their argument no one
else involved — including the BLM — has the horses’ best interest in
In Utah, Iron County commissioners had threatened to gather
up hundreds of mustangs themselves, saying the horses threaten livestock
and wildlife on rangelands already damaged by drought.
"We will
take whatever action we have to take to reduce those numbers
immediately," Commissioner David Miller told the Salt Lake Tribune.
BLM State Director Juan Palma, in an email sent Friday to Miller, said
he is committed to working with the county in developing a plan to
reduce the number of horses, The Spectrum of St. George, Utah, reported.
the BLM and Iron County have a shared interest in the well-being of the
range and all who rely in its health. … Additionally, (we have) our
shared interest in the well-being of sustainable populations of our wild
horses," Palma wrote.
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