Eighty miles north of Las Vegas, a controversial cattle roundup has been called off. After a week-long battle with agents from the federal government that led to the arrest of several protesters, the Bureau of Land Management announced it was pulling out of the area, citing “safety concerns”.
“Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public,” Neil Kornze, director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said in a statement.
Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy has resisted multiple requests, including a court order, to remove his cattle from BLM land. Bundy has not paid grazing fees since 1993, and the government contends he has been grazing his cattle illegally since then, and owes $1.1 million in arrears.
Bundy, 67, and his large family have portrayed their resistance to the roundup as a constitutional stand and a defense of their freedom. He says he doesn't recognize federal authority over state land, and that the land is the family’s private property.
Bundy claims he has ancestral rights to graze his cattle on lands his Mormon family settled in the 1870. He stopped paying grazing fees and disregarded several court orders to remove his animals.
At that time, ranchers would let their cattle graze on public land, and the government didn’t stop them. However, during the 1930s, it was apparent that the land was being harmed by uncontrolled grazing and a permit system was instituted to control the amount of grazing.
The dispute that triggered the roundup dates to 1993, when the BLM cited concern for the federally protected desert tortoise and designated part of the area as protected habitat. Bundy stopped paying his fees because he was asked to reduce the number of animals on the land. The agency later revoked Bundy's grazing rights.
The government took Bundy to court after he ignored repeated requests to pay his arrears. After two federal cases (both of which Bundy lost), in October, 2013, the court ordered Bundy to either remove his cattle from the land himself, or to not interfere with federal agents assigned to remove the cattle, if he refused to do so.
Bundy’s response was to threaten "range war" against the BLM, and invoke comparisons with Ruby Ridge and Waco. The roundup began April 5, when federal officers began impounding the first of an estimated 900 head of cattle. Bundy responded by inviting supporters onto his land to protest the roundup “with force”.
On Sunday, April 6, one of Bundy's sons, Dave Bundy, was taken into custody for refusing to disperse and resisting arrest. Hundreds of protesters, some from neighboring states and many of them armed, had gathered in support along the road to Bundy’s property. Dave Bundy was later released.
On Wednesday, clashes between demonstrators and authorities took a violent turn on Wednesday. Cell phone video posted on social media showed some protestors being tasered, including Ammon Bundy, another of Bundy’s sons. According to the BLM, two other protesters were detained, cited and later released on Thursday.
However, today the BLM said it would not enforce the court order to remove the cattle and was pulling out of the area. BLM Director Neil Kornze asked for calm:
"We ask that all parties in the area remain peaceful and law-abiding as the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service work to end the operation in an orderly manner," he said.
UPDATE: dozens of police and SWAT agents have been called in to keep the peace as protesters flooded Interstate 15, blocking traffic and demanding the release of Cliven Bundy’s cattle. People on the scene are reporting that the protestors have guns visible and drawn. No violence reported at this time.