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EDITORIAL: Government land barons incompetent

The federal government’s incompetence in public land management has been obvious for decades. Far from protecting natural resources, many of Washington’s practices are killing off species and harming the environment. But that doesn’t stop agencies from regulating the public’s use of public land with a heavy hand while allowing costly federal failures to continue in perpetuity.

So when the Bureau of Land Management began the expensive process of rounding up Cliven Bundy’s cattle and removing them from federal land last week under the auspices of protecting the environment, officials in Iron County, Utah, called out the agency. The Utah officials have served notice that they intend to take care of their growing wild horse problem — something the BLM has refused to address for the past 15 years because of — get this — a lack of funds.

“Basically we’re just calling out the hypocrisy,” Iron County Commissioner Dave Miller told the Review-Journal’s Henry Brean.

The BLM has removed more than 100,000 wild horses in the West over the past decade, purportedly to ease ecological damage and thin overpopulated herds, only to end up with overpopulated herds and overflowing holding pens. The result: widespread suffering among captive and wild populations, extensive damage to rangelands and threats to private water rights. Good for Utah for pointing out the agency’s disconnect.

Back in Clark County, the government and environmental groups allege Mr. Bundy’s cattle are a threat to the protected desert tortoise. Never mind that in 2008, as part of an initiative to preserve the tortoise in the wild, Washington released 770 of the reptiles from Fort Irwin into the California desert. About 90 percent of the tortoises were immediately devoured by predators, leading to the program’s suspension. The federal government has killed more tortoises than Mr. Bundy’s cattle ever could. Far from threatened, the tortoise is so abundant that, as of a few years ago, more than 10,000 had been collected from the Las Vegas Valley, and tens of thousands of tortoises live as pets in Southern Nevada.

A September 2011 estimate showed Mr. Bundy had been billed $292,601.50 in trespass and administrative fees for allowing his cattle to continue grazing on federal land since first being told to remove them in 1994 — land that his family has used since 1877. Mr. Bundy’s cattle are indeed on federal land, but that means it’s his land, too. And how many taxpayers who support the removal of the cattle are going to put that land to productive use, let alone actually visit the area? Instead, they’ll pay more than $1 million for the cattle roundup and related land closures. Expect Washington to come in over budget.

One of Mr. Bundy’s sons was arrested Sunday — the family said he was taking photos from a parked car on the highway — prompting the Bunkerville rancher to declare a “Range War” effective Monday. One could argue the government declared war on ranchers decades ago.

The BLM lacks the credibility to state that it knows how to best manage land. It performs so poorly because too much land is under federal control — more than 80 percent of Nevada is owned by Washington.

Instead of rounding up Mr. Bundy’s cattle on the public’s dime, the BLM should sell off more of its land holdings to local owners — in Nevada, Utah and across the West — who would be far better caretakers. They certainly couldn’t do any worse than Washington.

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