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New documents reveal little about 2014 Bundy-BLM clash

Plodding along seemingly slower than desert tortoises that spawned the dispute between Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management more than 20 years ago, the BLM has finally provided a watchdog group with a few dozen pages of documents under a Freedom of Information Act request.

But none of the heavily redacted documents sheds light on what led to last year’s armed standoff between Bundy’s supporters and federal agents. The standoff occurred after the BLM hired a helicopter firm to round up more than 300 of his free-roaming cows from the Gold Butte range only to let them be released from a makeshift corral on April 12, 2014, as a potentially violent confrontation loomed.

“There’s so little information; we don’t know why it took a year to find 44 pages,” Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. His group requested the documents in late April for an FOIA lawsuit it filed against the BLM in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“This is more of a reflection of the way the BLM operates than the frailty of the FOIA,” he said. “The absence of documents raises questions if this is a professionally managed outfit.”

In a news release Wednesday, the group known as PEER — described on its website as “a national alliance of local, state and federal resource professionals” that advocates environmental enforcement — concluded from scant information in the documents that “in the aftermath of this incident, BLM apparently did not analyze either its effects or what to do if it happened again,” according to a quote from Ruch.

Bundy has refused to pay federal grazing fees for 22 years after the BLM restricted use of the Gold Butte range for cattle grazing because much of it includes habitat deemed critical for survival of the federally protected desert tortoise, a reptile listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

On April 13, 2014, hours after the standoff ended, the Las Vegas Review-Journal filed Freedom of Information Act requests seeking copies of receipts, bills, contracts and other financial records pertaining to the cost of the 2014 roundup in addition to emails about the roundup that were copied to BLM Southern Nevada District Manager Tim Smith, BLM Director Neil Kornze and then-Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie.

“The Review-Journal requested BLM FOIA documents on activities at the Bundy Ranch more than a year ago. To date, the BLM has not provided the requested documents,” said Mark Hinueber, vice president of the Review-Journal.

“This matter represents why the FOIA needs to be reformed. Endless foot-dragging by the BLM does not further public debate on its activities,” Hinueber said.

Contact Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308. Find him on Twitter: @KeithRogers2

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