On Feb. 8, 1994, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 6.4 million acres of BLM-managed land in California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona as critical habitat of the desert tortoise, which is in danger of extinction. Up to 1993, Cliven Bundy had held a permit to graze 150 head of cattle and their calves on part of that land in the Gold Butte area of Clark County.
Unlike his neighbors, Cliven Bundy continued to run cattle on that critical habitat without a permit, incurring over a million dollars in court-imposed fines in the process, which he refused to pay because he’d decided that the federal government didn’t exist. Twenty years later, Bundy’s trespass has grown to over 900 head, not all of them his, and Gold Butte has been turned into a Woodstock for anti-government activists.
On April 12, 2014, BLM agents dispatched to gather the trespassing cattle were confronted by a group of armed men, including at least one sniper. To prevent bloodshed, BLM director Neil Kornze ordered the agents to suspend the gather, and as a result, Cliven Bundy’s violations have been allowed to continue into their third decade.
Flagrant lawbreaking is not a new phenomenon, nor is flagrant lawbreakers styling themselves as folk heroes, especially in the west, but at some point this little game has to end and we will have to restore the rule of law on Nevada’s rangelands.