Nevada Ranch Dispute Highlights Conflicting Sovereignties: Federal, State And Individual

protesters and Bureau of Land Management officers

UPDATE: Late Thursday, a small group of ranchers, led by Ammon Bundy (Cliven Bundy’s son), actually made it through the BLM blockade and managed to “rustle” 30 head of their own cattle, thereby saving them from BLM confiscation. “We did have a small confrontation with them [Federal officers], but they didn’t have the forces to do a whole lot. They couldn’t mobilize fast enough and we were able to gather those cattle and get them to the ranch,” he told Infowars. BLM reportedly called officers away from the site Thursday, following broad criticism from conservative media, citizen groups and Nevada elected officials. That means the standoff is, for the moment, over — although the long-term future of Cliven Bundy’s ranching operation remains uncertain.

A long-standing land-use conflict between a Nevada ranching family and the Federal government began deteriorating quickly Wednesday and Thursday, as Federal law enforcement converged on a large tract of disputed farmland and clashed with civilians, aimed sniper rifles at family members and supervised an ongoing mass confiscation of privately owned livestock.

The Orwellian drama has continued to unfold against an emotionally charged backdrop of protest, both from grass-roots supporters of the ranching family and from elected officials — all of whom have condemned the government’s heavy-handed and Constitutionally questionable encroachment on individual liberties — liberties that, at an early time in the Nation’s history, the Federal government enthusiastically encouraged.

With the assistance of some 200 armed officers, the Bureau of Land Management had encircled the disputed land in Clark County, Nev. — the same land where rancher Cliven Bundy is fighting to continue grazing his herd of nearly 1,000 cattle, as his generational forebears have previously done for more than 100 uninterrupted years.

The government confiscation began last week, but news of the BLM’s controversial action has spread through social media and Internet-based conservative news outlets, fomenting an enormous public backlash against the government — one that encompasses all walks of life, from fed-up “little guys” to the Republican Governor of Nevada.

Governor Brian Sandoval was unequivocal in his criticism of the Feds, telling reporters in a prepared statement Tuesday that “[n]o cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists, nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans. The BLM needs to reconsider its approach to this matter and act accordingly.”

Federal law enforcement has attempted to contain the swell of protest by establishing a “First Amendment Area,” ostensibly with the intention of enabling free speech inside the designated space. Of course, what that gesture really accomplishes is the effective revocation of 1st Amendment free speech guarantees everywhere outside the “protected” zone.

Technically, the 67-year-old Bundy is transgressing Federal law — and has been doing so for several years — by refusing to remove his cattle from the BLM-managed land, after the government decreed the tract a graze-by-permit area because of the presence of the desert tortoise.

The tortoise, protected under the Endangered Species Act, has nevertheless seen a recent resurgence in Nevada, prompting new State-level policies aimed at curbing the creatures’ accelerated proliferation. Critics emphasize that the “threatened” tortoise is essentially a McGuffin, a meaningless totem useful only to the government as a convenient pretext for pushing its statist narrative forward.

Under a 1993 Federal Habitat Conservation Plan for the area, which came relatively late in the Bundy family’s 140-year-long dependence on the site for its livelihood, ranchers are supposed to pay fees to the government if they choose to graze their cattle on Gold Butte, the tract in question.

Bundy never has paid the fees — which now exceed $1 million — claiming his family has a right to use the land for ranching. He and other government critics point out that families like his were well habituated to the shared practice of cattle farming across rural Western lands long before the BLM came into existence in 1946.

The BLM’s original predecessor — the General Land Office — was created by the Federal government to drive civilian expansion and settlement into Western territories, and actively encouraged ranching on the open land, which remains desolate and rural to this day.

Personal Liberty

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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