Commentary by James Shott
Thankfully, the standoff at the Bundy ranch in Nevada ended fairly peacefully. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Neil Kornze made a good decision, and the correct decision, when he pulled his officers out after returning some 400 head of seized cattle to the land on which they had been grazing. He took the action “because of our serious concern about the safety of [BLM] employees and members of the public.”
The Internet is rife with stories about this incident from national and local news outlets including ABC, the local CBS channel KLAS-TV, Newsmax.com, the Los Angeles Times, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Associated Press, and others.
Some will say that rancher Cliven Bundy was at fault in this incident. Mr. Bundy raises cattle on the ranch his grandfather started in the1870s, and he and his ancestors and neighbors have been grazing their herds on this land for well over a hundred years.
The federal government, through the BLM, took control of a huge area in Nevada when a tortoise that makes its home there was labeled “threatened” many years ago. In order to graze their cattle there, ranchers had to pay a fee. The new paradigm engendered the shutting down of several ranches, Mr. Bundy asserts, and he refused to be one of them. He continued to graze his cattle there and has refused to pay the fee on the basis that the federal government had no right to take control of the land that belonged to the State of Nevada.
He and others dispute the stated reason for the federal encroachment, the “threatened” tortoise. They say that the tortoise is not endangered at all, and that even if it was, cattle do not harm the habitat or the tortoises. Thus, the federal government had no basis for the take-over, and the court actions against him are therefore moot.
After losing court actions, Mr. Bundy still grazed his cattle on the land for years without paying. In response to a court order, the BLM recently sent an estimated 200 heavily armed officers and police dogs to the area and began rounding up the cattle.
And that’s when the revolt against what protesters viewed as over-reaching on the part of the BLM/federal government starting building steam. The protestors began rolling in from across the country. Some were armed and some were on horseback, reportedly attempting to free cattle seized by the BLM.
Tensions grew and were aggravated when Mr. Bundy’s son was shot twice with a stun gun, and a BLM officer tackled Mr. Bundy’s 57-year-old sister to the ground.
As tensions grew among the protestors, and the potential for violence grew, Director Kornze made the decision to return the captured cattle and withdraw the BLM personnel.
Some believe the federal retreat signals a victory for Mr. Bundy and his supporters. Others believe the federal intervention was a test to determine whether, and to what extent, the American people will stand up against federal over-reaching. Whatever the case, it has gotten the attention of millions of Americans.
Now it’s time for answers to some important questions about the BLM and its actions, and the basis for the court decisions. The most important of these questions is: Where does the federal government find the authority for the BLM to take control of land belonging to a sovereign state?
Some legal authorities say that the Bureau of Land Management action is a direct violation of Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the US Constitution. That clause, the Enclave Clause, authorizes Congress to purchase, own and control land in a state only under specific and limited conditions, such as “for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings.” It does not mention uses such as to protect endangered animals.
Legal scholar Mark Levin said that the BLM negotiated agreements with Mr. Bundy and other ranchers many years ago for water rights, grazing rights, and for building roads and irrigation. The BLM then changed the rules in what Mr. Levin called a “systematic and deliberate campaign to drive ranchers out of Southern Nevada.” The fact that Mr. Bundy is the lone remaining rancher in the area adds credence to this charge.
And why swoop in with heavily armed federal agents and forcibly take Mr. Bundy’s cattle? This action is not only uncalled for, but is dangerous and irresponsible. There are other methods for the federal government to get what it is due in fees without armed force.
It is an encouraging sign that so many Americans from so many states felt strongly enough about this issue to travel to Nevada and stand beside Mr. Bundy and his family in the face of federal tyranny.
Each time the government oversteps its bounds, the people complain, but usually to no avail. Let us hope that this time the message that the government that exists only to serve the best interests of Americans will not be allowed to endlessly abuse them.
People are more important than animals, and the American people are more important than their government. Our government and our leaders need to be reminded of their proper place.
Cross-posted from Observations