BUNKERVILLE -- A long-simmering feud between rancher Cliven Bundy and federal land managers over grazing cattle on public land in the Gold Butte area may soon boil over as the Bureau of Land Management prepares to round up his 500-head herd.
Bundy contends that Clark County, not the BLM, is the proper landlord for the public lands. However, a roundup planned for today has been temporarily pushed back, the rancher said late Tuesday.
Bundy, 65, known as the last rancher running cattle year-round on a Southern Nevada range, received a letter Monday from BLM District Manager Mary Jo Rugwell that said he continues to be in violation of a 1998 federal court injunction to stop grazing cattle on public lands.
"The BLM issued you a notice of intent to impound on July 26, 2011 after your livestock were found grazing on public lands within the Gold Butte area without authorization in areas that are closed to grazing," Rugwell wrote in the letter dated April 3.
"Subsequent livestock checks have confirmed that your livestock remain on public lands and that you remain in violation of a permanent injunction."
Rugwell's letter said Bundy will be contacted after the cattle are removed, "and you will have an opportunity to claim any cattle that bear your brand."
A second letter he received this week from the local BLM district orders him to remove his water systems, fences, equipment and other range improvements from public land.
During a tour Tuesday of the Gold Butte area, Bundy said he intends to resist efforts by a government contractor to round up his cattle. His family and ancestors have grazed cattle and lived on the range about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas since 1877.
Asked whether he would be armed while doing so, Bundy said, "I'm going to protect my livestock and the ranch. I hope it doesn't come to that point. I'm going to hold the state and ... the elected authorities responsible."
Bundy said Sheriff Doug Gillespie met with him twice at his house in the past few days. Gillespie said his officers would be present as peacekeepers, Bundy recalled. Gillespie was the one who notified Bundy that the roundup had been delayed, the rancher said in a Tuesday night email.
"The emergency for tomorrow's range war seems to be declining," the email said. "I have been contacted by Clark County Sheriff Gillespie and the raid on my cattle has been temporarily suspended!"
Earlier, Bundy referenced the preamble of the U.S. Constitution and said he believes the sheriff "has an obligation to protect life, liberty and the property of 'We the people.' Federal rangers have no jurisdiction or authority, no policing power or arresting power."
"In talking to the sheriff, I said, 'If you have guts enough to say no (to the BLM), this issue would be over.' "
Dave Bundy, one of Bundy's sons, sent an email Tuesday to family friends before word of the roundup delay reached them. It said: "This unconstitutional federal overrun is a cancer that is destroying our free way of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness and is spreading throughout our entire nation."
Dave Bundy's email goes on to state that the BLM has hired a contractor that specializes "in putting ranchers out of business by collecting their cattle for the BLM. They plan on making this move on Cliven on Wednesday."
"We need you to join and rally with us to stop this movement. We the people can make a difference ... Saddle up and be ready," Dave Bundy wrote.
Cliven Bundy stopped paying grazing allotment fees to the BLM years ago and tried to pay them to Clark County after his federal grazing allotment was canceled in 1994 to protect habitat for the threatened desert tortoise and other sensitive species.
For 18 years he has bucked the BLM's authority and continued to graze cattle in the area. He estimates he runs 500 head of adult cattle on 120 square miles in the Gold Butte area that he calls his "ranch." The area includes 160 acres of private property near Bunkerville where his father built a house in 1951. Bundy and his wife, Carol, have raised 14 children there.
He said his problems with the BLM began in the early 1990s when the agency started "managing land to get ranchers and cattle off of it."
"No more moo in '92 and cattle-free in '93," he recalled ranchers saying of BLM policy.
Then, about one-fourth of grazing fees were supposed to be used by the BLM for range improvements and one-eighth for management. Bundy stopped paying his fees about that time. The BLM didn't cancel his Bunkerville allotment in 1994, Bundy contends -- he fired them.
"I'll be damned if I'm going to pay them to manage my ranch," he said Tuesday.
He said his firing of the BLM came about through letters he wrote to the solicitor of the United States and the BLM's national and state offices.
The BLM accused him of trespassing in a 1998 U.S. District Court case in Las Vegas. He lost and appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, but the court upheld the injunction to remove his cattle from the public range.
Bundy asserts that the federal government has unlimited power over public land only if the land is a territory. He said the land where he grazes cattle was not owned by anybody but has been occupied by American Indian tribes and Mexico. It became U.S. territory through wars and remained as such until Nevada became a state.
"When Nevada became a state, it became a sovereign state with subdivisions in county governments," Bundy asserted. "We, the people, elect county sheriffs and pay the sheriffs with the county commissions to protect our life, liberty and property. The people of Clark County must own the public land in Clark County because the federal government, according to the Constitution, can't own property."
That's why Gillespie and his deputies are supposed to be peacemakers in his fight with the BLM, he said. Their job is to protect private property and "keep the federal government from stealing it."
Bundy said the ordeal has been "a strain on my family. We've been busy trying to defend ourselves."