Bureau of Land Management officials in Nevada won’t say how much it might cost to round up so-called “trespass cattle” from federal land 80 miles north of Las Vegas, but at least $1 million is a pretty safe bet.
Based on a review of government contracting records, the bureau is set to pay a private livestock contractor from Utah $966,000 to collect several hundred cattle set loose on public land by Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy.
Contracts for nearly $15,000 more have been awarded for light towers and other equipment to support the government’s impound operation, which is expected to start within a few days or weeks.
Starting Thursday, federal authorities began restricting access to almost 600,000 acres of public land in northeast Clark County in preparation for the roundup.
As the operation unfolds, the public will be kept from parts of the temporary closure area, but the rest will remain open.
The closure area includes almost all of Clark County’s northeastern corner, from Overton east to the Arizona border and from the Lincoln County line south to the northern tip of Lake Mead.
According to federal records, BLM officials signed a contract Feb. 7 with Shayne Sampson of Sampson Livestock in Meadow, Utah. Instead of a description of the contract, records label it as “Confidential Priority 1 Gold Butte.”
But Bundy knows exactly what the contract is for. He sent out notices last week to Shayne Sampson and others in the livestock business warning them they would face legal action for “cattle rustling” if they took part in the roundup.
Bundy has promised to do “whatever it takes” to protect his livestock and other property.
The rancher has been locking horns with the government since 1993, when federal range managers told him he could keep only 150 cattle on the 158,666-acre Bunkerville grazing allotment out of concern for the federally protected desert tortoise.
To protest the change, Bundy stopped paying monthly grazing fees of $1.86 per animal, but kept using the allotment. He said he didn’t see the point in paying the BLM to run him out of business, so he “fired” the agency.
The bureau responded by canceling his grazing permit in 1994, but his livestock kept living off the public land his family has used since 1877.
In 1998, a federal court ordered him to remove his animals, but the cattle remain. The following year, federal authorities officially closed the Bunkerville allotment to cattle, but made no effort to remove livestock already there.
The BLM finally moved to impound Bundy’s cattle in April 2012, but that roundup was canceled at the last minute.
Records show the $972,000 contract for that operation went to Cattoor Livestock Roundup Inc. of Nephi, Utah. It’s unclear how much money, if any, the government paid to the company after the roundup was called off.
Bureau officials in Nevada said they won’t know the final cost of the upcoming operation until after it is over. When asked to provide an estimate, they would only say it will vary depending on a number of factors, including duration.
A Federal Register notice associated with the roundup states that the operation is expected to take about 21 days but could last a month, depending on weather and other factors.
Bureau officials also declined to specify how many government employees and contract workers might be involved in the roundup, and they refused to identify which federal law enforcement agencies might be called in to keep the peace.
“Specific operations information regarding the impoundment will not be released,” said Kirsten Cannon, spokeswoman for the BLM in Nevada.
She called the roundup “a last resort.”
“We are conducting this impoundment because Mr. Bundy has not complied with the law, unlike the many other ranchers who graze cattle on public lands,” Cannon said.
A BLM aerial survey of the Gold Butte area in December logged 568 cattle scattered across a 90-mile swath of federal land north and east of Lake Mead’s Overton Arm. Previous surveys have placed the number at more than 900.
Bundy will be given the chance to claim any cattle bearing his brand or otherwise determined to belong to him, but not until he pays impound and trespass fees assessed by the federal government.
Cannon said Bundy racked up $292,601.50 in trespass and administrative fees through September 2011, and his bill since then is still being added up.
Had the rancher agreed to reduce his herd to 150 cattle on the Bunkerville allotment 20 years ago and kept paying his monthly grazing fees of $1.86 per head, he would have paid the BLM $66,960.
Review-Journal staff writer Brian Haynes contributed to this report. Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350. Follow him on Twitter at @RefriedBrean.