The federal government has declared “war on rural America” with its rules and regulations on land use, a Spokane Valley legislator said in the wake of last week’s standoff between a Nevada rancher and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
In a speech on land near the center of the dispute, Republican Rep. Matt Shea called for federal land to be transferred to the states. A coalition of legislators from Western states was forming to stand up for Cliven Bundy and others in the fight against overbearing federal rules, he said.
But a spokesman for the group challenging Bundy's rights to graze hundreds of cattle on federal land without a permit or paying fees, said the rancher is trying to do something other cattlemen can't. And a federal judge's order supports that view. . .
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To read the federal judge's order in the legal battle between the BLM and Cliven Bundy, click on the document below.
. . . . Bundy is a Nevada rancher who refused to obey federal court orders to remove his cattle from federal land managed by the BLM. The agency says he has failed to pay grazing fees for some 20 years while Bundy says his family has historic grazing rights on the land dating to the 1800s and he’s willing to pay fees to the county, but not the federal government.
The agency seized close to 400 head of the cattle last week, prompting states’ rights groups, self-styled constitutionalists and militia members to flock to the ranch to support Bundy. Oath Keepers, a group of current and former military and law enforcement officials, announced Shea was leading a group of state legislators and others to the Bundy ranch “to prevent bloodshed and to stand in defense of hardworking rural Americans who are under assault by a runaway government.”
Shea did not return calls to his Valley and Olympia offices asking for a comment. At one point last week, his legislative aide Jim Robinson said he didn’t know where Shea was or if he was going to Nevada. “I don’t know. He hasn’t told me,” Robinson said.
The BLM backed down on Saturday, saying it wanted to avoid violence, and released Bundy’s cattle. Shea and a legislative ally, Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxie, apparently arrived on the scene Sunday and appeared with several other elected officials after a press conference, said Gavin Seim of Ephrata, a Republican candidate for the U.S House in Central Washington’s 4th Congressional District.
“This isn't going to stop here. It’s already happening in other places in America,” Shea says in a video Seim posted on YouTube. “This is a war on rural America.”
Legislators from Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada and Arizona were forming a coalition, Shea said, to prevent problems like Bundy was facing by transferring federal land to the states and allow states and counties to manage them, “not faraway Washington, D.C.” He also criticized BLM staff for pointing weapons at protesters during the standoff.
“A sniper rifle is not due process. We cannot let that stand as legislators,” Shea said, who called for elected officials and citizens to work to “restore our God-honored constitutional republic.”
Taylor said in the video that he and Shea made the trip because “if we don’t stand up for our neighbors, there won’t be anybody left when they come for us.”
Seim said he had been at the Nevada desert standoff for several days before the video was shot, having made the trip to represent “the Constitution and the people’s liberty.” For part of the time he served as a media contact for some of the protesters.
“I decided to put my money where my mouth is,” he said in a phone interview while returning to Washington from Nevada.
Although Bundy supporters call this a battle over the rancher’s constitutional rights and due process, others say he is violating the law, and has been for more than 20 years. The BLM says he owes more than $1 million in fees, Bundy says it’s more like $300,000, which he’s willing to pay to the state or the county, but not the federal government.
The federal government owns the land in question, and has since 1848 when it bought the land from Mexico at the end of the Mexican-American War, Rob Mrowka of the Center for Biological Diversity said. It has always been under the control of the state or county or in private ownership.
Bundy did have a permit to graze 150 cattle on the land, but he stopped paying grazing fees to the Bureau of Land Management in 1993. He argued the federal government didn’t own the land. At one point, he tried to pay fees to the local county, but Clark County officials wouldn’t accept them because they had no authority to do so. In 1998, he was found guilty of trespass by a federal court, and ordered to remove his cattle, but those orders weren’t enforced and Bundy still refused to pay fees to the BLM.
“Any rancher anywhere in the country pays grazing fees on federal land,” Mrowka said.
Meanwhile, Clark County was buying up Bundy’s neighbors’ grazing rights and retiring them, to create habitat for an endangered species of tortoise as replacement for habitat land it wanted to develop other land closer to Las Vegas, Mrowka said.
Eventually, the center complained to the BLM and the agency prepared to roundup cattle on the land but cancelled the plans because of threats of violence. The center, in turn, threatened in 2012 to sue the BLM, and the agency returned to court in another effort to force Bundy to remove the cattle.
Last July, U.S. District Judge Lloyd George, who was appointed to the court by Ronald Reagan, said not only had Bundy failed to comply with the previous order covering the original land, but his cattle had spread “and are trespassing on a broad swath of additional federal land” managed by BLM and the Park Service.
Lloyd again rejected Bundy’s claims that the federal government doesn’t own the land, as well as several other legal arguments involving federal and states’ rights. “Bundy has produced no valid law or specific facts raising a genuine issue of fact regarding federal ownership or management of public lands in Nevada, or that his cattle have not trespassed,” Lloyd wrote, ordering the rancher to remove his cattle in 45 days or the BLM could seize them.
That seizure stopped for the time being Saturday. Some protesters remain at the Bundy ranch and the BLM has not said what its next step will be.