Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bundy vs BLM

Everyone's been excitedly reporting/pontificating on the situation in Nevada between rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management.  So, I may as well join the chatter.

The root of the conflict is the fact that Mr. Bundy ceased paying grazing fees to the BLM in 1993, after he "fired" them for not fulfilling what he says is their obligation to work with the ranchers to manage the range land and instead using the rancher's fees against them by changing the classification of the land to protected habitat for the desert tortoise and actively working against the interests of the ranchers.

The government has since gone to court and won two judgments in federal court ordering Mr. Bundy to remove his cattle from the disputed property.  He has consistently refused, saying he doesn't recognize federal authority over what he considers state land and his pre-emptive grazing rights, a legacy of his ancestors' settling of the new territory acquired as a part of the Louisiana Purchase.  He says that this is a matter for the state to settle and the feds should stay out of it.  He also claims that after he ceased paying his grazing fees to the federal government he tried to make the payments to the state but was refused.  Various state authorities have said they have no record of him making any attempt to pay the fees to them, adding that they wouldn't have been able to accept such payment because the land is owned by the federal government, not the state or county.

I want to make clear from the start that, from a philosophical perspective, I am 100% behind Mr. Bundy.  He, and the other ranchers, have spent 10's and 100's of thousands of dollars over the decades maintaining the land, building and maintaining roads & bridges, digging waterholes and keeping them clear and flowing, building fences and keeping them in proper condition, etc.  The BLM was created with the original intent of working with the ranchers to regulate the land usage so as to forestall overgrazing that would devastate the land, rendering it a barren desert.  It is clear that the BLM is no longer working with the ranchers, but against them, heeding instead the strident calls of environmentalists.

Unfortunately, none of that matters.  From a strictly legal perspective, Mr. Bundy hasn't got a (legal) leg to stand on.  Aside from his arguments being twice dismissed by the courts, there's the not-so-little matter of the Nevada state constitution expressly stating that deed to the property rests with the federal government.  It can be (and has been) argued that the Constitutional provision allowing for the government to acquire territory was intended solely as a means for the new country's government to create new states and expand it's reach.  Unfortunately, that wasn't made plain.  And, as has become the norm in legal wrangling, if it isn't specifically prohibited, it's allowed.  At least as far as the government goes (it used to be understood to be the other way around, with the government not allowed what wasn't expressly set forth as permitted while the people were given the rights to everything that wasn't expressly prohibited).  So, in this matter, in this narrow finding, I have to come down on the side of the government's right to evict Mr. Bundy and his cattle from the property for non-payment of fees owed.

Now, there are some interesting little tidbits on the sidelines cluttering up the playing field and bringing into question the motives behind the actions taken by the BLM.  The first is, since when does the government send over 200 heavily armed and armored men (including several snipers!) to descend on a single family over what is essentially a dispute over nonpayment of fees (the government claims that it is owed appx. $1.1M in grazing fees.  Contrast that with Mr. Al Sharpton, who reportedly owes more than $1.9M in unpaid taxes and, far from being targeted by sharp-shooters, headlines a fund raiser with President Barack Obama).  Also, I fail to see where the removal of his "trespass cattle" equates to defacto rustling and allows the government to take possession.  Unless it is claiming them in lieu of payment, a claim that hasn't been made.

In addition, there are the comments made by the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, the Honorable Harry Reid (D) of Nevada, who has labeled the Bundy's, as well as their (sometimes armed) supporters "domestic terrorists".  Senator Reid and his oldest son have connections with a Chinese solar energy concern who wishes to construct a multi-billion dollar solar farm on property just to the north of the Bundy ranch.  This land is also part of the protected tortoise habitat.  Far from sending armed men to dispute this project in the name of the threatened tortoise, the BLM has no problem with the project.  HOWEVER, regulations do require that they mitigate the impact on the tortoise by relocating them to alternate habitat.  Guess where the proposed relocation habitat site is?  Yep.  The Bundy ranch.  Another interesting facet to this is the fact that the head of the BLM is a former chief political aide to Mr. Reid.  Mr. Reid has a reputation for somewhat shady real estate deals in the past that have enabled him to create a multi-million dollar net worth on a relatively minor public servant's salary.

There has been a temporary reprieve for the Bundy's and their cattle.  The feds have withdrawn and have released the cattle back to the rancher, citing concerns over the escalation of the confrontation (several dozen people have rallied to the Bundy's cause. Many of them also "just happened" to bring along their firearms) and the potential for a misstep on either side to result in violence.  They will be pursuing further court action to resolve the situation.  Meanwhile, many of the supports that came to the Bundy's defense have decided to remain, against the possibility of future covert actions by the BLM against the family, with some even going so far as to claim that this whole extravagant exercise in power by the government has been a trial run to see what kind of a reaction they would receive from the common citizens to the government's overt use of force, saying that while they aren't advocating armed action against the government they all "stand ready" to react to any future unconstitutional aggression by the government.

For now, it appears that things stand this way:  Bundy 1, BLM 0.

But the game is far from over.  Stay tuned.

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