EDITORIAL: Rancher stands up; feds should back off


A rancher needs big brass ones to stand up to Washington. Not only is the federal government the country’s largest and least competent landowner, it’s also the country’s largest police force and largest law firm, wrapped with red tape into one unflinching leviathan.

Cliven Bundy has big brass ones, all right. And the belt buckle and hat to go with them. But Clark County’s last cattle rancher knew his defiance would one day come to this. After more than 20 years of being dared to use their heavy hands, Bureau of Land Management officials and federal authorities say they’re finally going to seize and auction Mr. Bundy’s livestock.

Starting Thursday, Washington restricted access to almost 600,000 acres of land — nearly 1,000 square miles, or roughly the area of Rhode Island — with pockets of closures so agents and contract cowboys can round up several hundred “trespass cattle” owned by Mr. Bundy. The restrictions will be in place through May 12. Public land, indeed.

Although Mr. Bundy stopped paying grazing fees to the BLM in 1993, the desert tortoise is driving this confiscation. The BLM closed large areas of land northeast of Las Vegas to grazing in 1999 in another misguided attempt to protect the reptile and its habitat. Never mind that grazing has long benefited tortoise populations by churning seeds into soils, keeping predators at a distance and limiting the vegetation overgrowth that feeds wildfires. Never mind the long record of federal busybodies killing off tortoises by trying to save them.

The environmentalist toadies at the Center for Biological Diversity don’t like ranching and grazing. They believe a few hundred cattle will destroy hundreds of thousands of acres of desert. They want the BLM use force to remove Mr. Bundy’s cattle. The roundup will disturb plenty of tortoise habitat, at great public expense, but no matter. BLM officials have spent years in the courts making sure Mr. Bundy has no legal recourse to stop them this time.

Mr. Bundy, 67, doesn’t care what judges say about the unforgiving land his family has lived on for nearly 140 years. “Tell them Bundy’s ready,” he told the Review-Journal’s Henry Brean this week. “Whenever they’ve got the guts to try it, tell them to come.”

This action could reignite the Sagebrush Rebellion — Mr. Bundy has allies across the West. There is great potential for violence. It shouldn’t come to that. We hope it doesn’t.

The most obvious solution, releasing federal land to local control, won’t happen overnight. So we offer a final chance at compromise: Have Washington stand down and send the zealots of the Center for Biological Diversity to collect the cattle, instead.

 

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