Some of my readers think I was too nice to renegade Southern Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy in last Sunday’s Appeal column ... and maybe they’re right.
Although I applauded Bundy’s challenge to a heavy-handed government agency, the BLM, I strongly condemn his racist statements and simply can’t condone the fact that he thinks he can establish his own rules for grazing his cattle on federal lands. As one of my friends said, “Bundy has been grazing his cattle on public land for more than 20 years and has never paid (federal) grazing fees, as do 99 percent of his fellow ranchers.” Good point, but it raises a larger question: Why do the feds own and manage more than 85 percent of Nevada’s total land area?
Online research reveals that when Nevada separated from Utah Territory in 1861, an enabling act stipulated that Nevadans had to “disclaim all rights to unappropriated public land” in the new territory. A similar provision recognizing “sole and entire” federal jurisdiction over state lands was written into the state Constitution when Nevada became a state in 1864, but no such restrictions were placed upon Eastern states.
Those onerous public-land provisions appear to violate the 10th Amendment, which guarantees that “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution ... are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people.” So where does the U.S. Constitution give the feds the power to control huge swatches of territory in the West? And the “forever” provision of the Nevada Constitution reminds me of the 1903 treaty that granted the United States sovereignty over the Panama Canal Zone “in perpetuity.” Some say we stole it fair and square.
Former President Jimmy Carter turned the Canal Zone over to Panama and the feds should follow suit by ceding some federal lands back to Nevada. A preliminary report issued last week by the Nevada Public Land Management Task Force concluded that a transfer of 4 million acres of BLM land could generate between $31 million and $114 million a year for our depleted state treasury.
Most of Nevada’s grazing lands still belong to the federal government despite claims by Cliven Bundy and his followers that his family owns historic grazing rights to the land in question. Although the Bundys have run cattle there for more than 100 years, that land was federal before Nevada became a state. Nevertheless, Bundy has taken a strong stand against the feds; unfortunately, however, he’s standing on legal quicksand.
That’s the essence of the “range war” between the defiant Bundy and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which manages most of Nevada’s public lands. I was pleased when new BLM Director Neil Kornze, an Elko native, decided to release Bundy’s cattle and seek unpaid grazing fees through the courts. Kornze temporarily defused a potentially violent situation that developed when armed militiamen showed up at the Bundy ranch.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who should know better, exacerbated the situation by calling fellow Mormon Bundy and his followers “domestic terrorists.” Reid and everyone else should calm the rhetoric, stow their guns and argue these contentious issues in the courts. My heart is with the Bundys’ challenge to the state, but my head tells me to follow the rule of law.
Guy W. Farmer, an adopted Nevadan since 1962, is a states’ rights advocate.