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The facts behind the Bundy ranch dispute

Cliven Bundy and a set of public lands is at the center of a disptue over government power and individual rights.
Cliven Bundy and a set of public lands is at the center of a disptue over government power and individual rights.
Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

What once was a fight between one cattle rancher and relatively unknown federal agency has now become a national story highlighting the debate between conservatives and progressives over natural rights. This article will summarize the facts surrounding the story of a Nevada cattle rancher named Cliven Bundy and the dispute that he is having with the federal Bureau of Land Management. The facts below include updates from the last 48 hours from Talking Points memo and CBS News.

The Cattle Rancher

Cliven Bundy owns approximately cattle which he allows to graze on the property surrounding his ranch. Bundy claims that his family has been on the land since the 19th century.

The Location

Bundy’s ranch, which he owns, is located approximately 80 miles outside of Las Vegas just east of the Virgin River. Bundy’s cattle graze outside of his personal property, on public lands that are owned by the federal government and that is the heart of the dispute.

Bundy claims that his family has ancestral rights that allow his cattle to graze on the land.

Until 1993 there was no problem with Bundy’s claim. However, at that time the federal government became concerned about an endangered tortoise species which lived in the area. In an attempt to keep ranchers from grazing on the land the federal government started charging local ranchers a grazing fee.

The Dispute

Most ranchers in the area went along with grazing fee charge or simply stopped allowing their cattle to roam on the public land. Bundy refused to pay the grazing fees and has racked up a $1.1 million dollar bill as a result. Bundy challenged the government’s right to charge him the grazing fee in court and lost.

Still, Bundy allowed his cattle to roam on the public land. As a result, the federal Bureau of Land Management started an operation last week to seize Bundy’s cattle that were “trespassing” on the public land. In the last week the Bureau of Land Management was able to capture approximately 400 of Bundy’s cattle by hiring professional cowboys.

Bundy’s case started gaining media attention, and soon hundreds of supporters came to support his cause. The conflict came to a head when 37-year-old Dave Bundy started taking pictures of police. Dave Bundy was instructed to leave the public lands where he was standing. When he refused the police used tasers and arrested him for failure to comply.

Many were concerned that the dispute would turn violent between Cliven Bundy’s supporters, many of whom were armed, and federal officers who were also armed.

The conflict deescalated yesterday when the Bureau of Land Management released the cattle they had captured.

The Anti-Bundy Argument

Environmentalists and supporters of the Federal Bureau of Land Management say that since the land is public land the government has a right to set restrictions on use of the land. The argument is that public lands belong to everyone, and that overuse by any one individual, specifically someone who might do damage to the land, would damage the public as a whole. Specifically, in this case the land is a relatively fragile habitat for an endangered species, and cattle grazing does have an environmental cost.

The Bureau of Land Management also claims an argument of fairness, saying that it would be unfair for Bundy to not pay grazing fees when other ranchers in the area are required to pay such a fee.

Finally, the anti-Bundy crowd claims that he is disrespecting the rule of law by ignoring not only the Bureau’s regulations, but also numerous court orders.

Bundy’s Argument

Bundy claims that the federal government has no rights to the land where his cattle grazes, and that instead the land is owned by the state of Nevada. Bundy says he is willing to pay fees to the state government, but that he is unwilling to pay any fees the federal Bureau of Land Management. Bundy also claims the Bureau of Land Management will ultimately only use his grazing fees to run him out of business.

Bundy’s supporters say that the federal government is being heavy-handed in its approach by bringing in armed officers and seizing Bundy’s cattle.

Finally, Bundy and his supporters claim this story is ultimately about freedom and personal liberty versus government overreach. According to these supporters, the federal government is unjustly making a land grab and encroaching on Bundy’s right to use the public lands for grazing as he has done for many decades before.