Conservation group plans to sue county, feds over halted Gold Butte roundup


The other shoe has dropped in the long-simmering feud between the Bureau of Land Management and Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy over the bureau's insistence but reluctance to round up hundreds of Bundy's renegade cattle in the Gold Butte area.

An environmental watchdog, the Center for Biological Diversity, served a 60-day notice Monday of its intent to sue the BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Clark County for failing to implement provisions of the Endangered Species Act. The act mandates the agencies comply with a permit for the Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.

The permit allows the county to remove federally protected desert tortoises, a threatened species, in areas targeted for development in exchange for protecting critical habitat, including where 700 head of Bundy's cattle roam near his former grazing allotment. The allotment was closed in 1994 to preserve tortoise habitat, 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, but Bundy continued to graze his cattle there despite a 1998 federal court order to remove them.

The BLM had hired a helicopter roundup company to gather Bundy's cattle on April 11 and impound the cattle, but bureau officials decided to postpone the gather indefinitely after Bundy stated he would do "whatever it takes" to stop the impoundment action.

"BLM has failed and refused to 'provide adequate law enforcement presence to ensure that management actions and restrictions are implemented for the conservation of' the desert tortoise as required," Center for Biological Diversity Conservation advocate Rob Mrowka and center senior attorney Lisa T. Belenky wrote in the 60-day notice letter. The letter cites regulations and BLM's legal obligations under the county's multiple species habitat protection plan.

Representatives for the BLM, Clark County and the Fish and Wildlife Service said in an emails that they wouldn't comment on pending litigation.

Mrowka, who is an ecologist for the Center for Biological Diversity, said, "Enough is enough."

He noted that the number of cattle grazing the Gold Butte area - 700 to 1,000 in the center's estimate - is up to 10 times more than what was legally permitted when the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the desert tortoise as a threatened species in 1990.

"Grazing reduces vegetation the tortoises need to live and spreads noxious weeds by disturbing the soil with hooves and fur that carry invasive seed," Mrowka said.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

 

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