RENO, Nev. – 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.
Wild-horse 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.
The BLM 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.”
BLM 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 the 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.
“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,’ ” Bundy said.