April 9, 2014

Who Is Trigger-happy Now?

Demonstrators rallied to the Bunkerville, Nev., area Monday in response to an effort by the Bureau of Land Management to confiscate trespassing cattle belonging to longtime rancher Cliven Bundy. (Jesselyn Bickley / The Spectrum & Daily News)

Moapa Valley Progress

It has become abundantly clear that the federal action to round up cattle in our region is much more than it appears. It isn’t about whether Cliven Bundy’s cows are in trespass on federal land; or whether Bundy should have paid his grazing fees; or whether the cattle harm the endangered desert tortoise habitat; or whether the land ought to be under state, not federal, jurisdiction as Bundy claims. While all of these elements have contributed to the story, none of them are at the core of the issue for northeast Clark County residents.

To us here on the ground, the real issue has been the over-reaching display of excessive federal power. It is really about the disturbing police action which has restricted all of us from accessing hundreds of thousands of acres of public land; all over a trivial matter of one rancher and his 500-some-odd head of cattle.

There is no longer any point to arguing who is right and who is wrong in the matter of Cliven Bundy. That has been done to death without resolution. Admittedly it is hard to defend Mr. Bundy in his long-standing refusal to accept jurisdiction and pay the appropriate grazing fees. But that is no longer the chief concern.

The fact is that the BLM is acting under the authority of two federal court orders which grant authority to “seize and remove to impound any of Bundy’s cattle that remain in trespass”. The documents also order that “Bundy shall not physically interfere with any seizure or impoundment operation”. That’s simple enough. Five hundred head of cattle ought to be a fairly manageable task for a group of seasoned “cowboys” being paid an exorbitant amount.

But nowhere in these court orders does it give authority to throw the general law-abiding public off this huge tract of land, much of which has absolutely nothing to do with the roundup. Federal officials have insisted that they are sensitive to the needs of the public and are only closing off smaller areas directly affected by the action. But 300,000 acres is not small! And it would be a stretch to argue that the east bench of Moapa Valley and much of the western side of the Mormon Mesa has any relevance whatsoever to this project. The fact is, in all of these closures, the federal agencies have far overrun the federal court documents, and have far exceeded what is needful for a safe and successful roundup operation.

In addition, nowhere do the court orders give these agencies power to intimidate the general public with an army of heavily armed federal officers itching for an opportunity to draw and shoot at a moment’s notice. If anything has ratcheted up the tension in Clark County it would be that unwarranted threat of force.

It has reached a point here where the general law-abiding citizenry of rural northeastern Clark County actually fear to venture into their own backyards. This is due to the very real worry of being arrested and/or shot because they may have accidentally stumbled out onto a restricted landscape. The vast open hills and mesas around us, which are usually bustling with recreational activities of all kinds, are now nearly silent. And so are many of the area businesses that usually thrive on tourism at this time of the year. Again, in this intimidation of the public, the federal agencies have far overreached the mandate of the federal court documents.

Finally, nowhere do the court orders give the feds power to marginalize, micromanage and restrict the free speech rights of the public to two small fenced-off areas on the margins of the federal action. Indeed, nowhere do the court orders give federal agents power to arrest and detain people without probable cause or without clearly stating the charges. For example, there are no special powers given to arrest an otherwise law-abiding citizen who is, casually and without threat, exercising his first amendment rights in an unrestricted space outside of these specified free speech areas. This is exactly what happened to Davie Bundy on Sunday afternoon. This example of thuggery is perhaps the most outrageous example of these agencies operating far outside of the legal mandates of their court orders.

Of course, the feds will claim that all of this is merely done for the protection of the public; to keep us safe. But we would ask: What public? Who is in danger? Where is the threat to the public safety really coming from?

Thus far it has certainly not been from Bundy or from his 500 head of cattle. Federal authorities blame Bundy for their excessive display of force. They cite Bundy’s inflammatory rhetoric regarding his willingness to take a last stand in defense of his rights. These threats, they say, are what has necessitated this superior show of force.

But who is the trigger happy party here, really? The escalation of tensions that have taken place out there on the range, and in the hearts and minds of the general public, has been directly due to the petty, vindictive, excessive and unjustifiable behavior of the federal agencies in this matter. That is what is truly driving the emotions and the conflict at this point.

As a public safety risk, these unwarranted federal actions pose a far greater threat than anything that Bundy, his family, his cattle, or the general public has done.

And now the jittery actions of a pack of trigger-happy federal agents is liable to get someone hurt or killed out there in the very near future. What possible justification is there for escalating this rather trivial matter of a few head of cattle to the level that it antagonizes, criminalizes and enrages the general population of the entire region?

With that in mind, we ask again as we have asked before: Who is standing for the rights of the law abiding citizens in our communities? Where are our federal Congressional delegates in all of this. Where are our elected representatives that are supposed to work on our behalf to bring some reason into this increasingly volatile situation?

Perhaps it is too much to expect for Senator Harry Reid or Congressman Steven Horsford to pull for their constituents when our interests are at odds with that of the Obama administration and the enviro-lobby that leads it around by the nose.
But where in the world is Senator Dean Heller in all of this? Where is Governor Brian Sandoval? Why are we receiving no representation in this outrageous federal over-reach?

As we have said before, this whole operation has nothing to do with cows, nor tortoises, nor ranching allotments, nor unpaid grazing fees. Plain and simple it has to do with federal control. It is all about public access to public lands; and who controls that access.

If the members of the general public want to strip away all the rhetoric and get down to the real truth of what a Gold Butte National Conservation Area (NCA) would look like, they need look no further than what has been going on out there in the past couple of weeks.

Yes, we have heard the repeated assurances from environmentalist NCA proponents that their plans would ensure that all current public access be retained. They have promised, with crossed heart, that no roads would be closed. But the fact is, there will always be urgent reasons for federal agencies to unilaterally restrict the area. Those reasons can be manufactured on a whim, and made to order. And let’s face it, those reasons will be at least as compelling, and as urgent, as Bundy and his 500 cows are now. Rest assured, we will see this all again. Just witness how easy it has been to close the whole area down. Make no mistake, the past two weeks is merely a practice run for things to come.

But never fear! We, the general public, can rest assured that our input will be allowed and supported. No doubt then, as now, there will be a small, controlled, fenced-in area; miles away from the action; set aside for the closely managed exercise of our free speech rights.