Driving the Ranchers Off the Land, Part 5 of 6

(NOTE: a condensed version of this report appears in the Autumn, 2014 issue of “Range” magazine, on newsstands now.)


With the BLM having turned tail on April 12, has Bundy won -– as his supporters hope and believe — or will the federals just lick their wounds before coming at him on some other front? Both the Mesquite City Council and the Clark County Commission have expressed support for a plan to turn the entire Gold Butte region into a “federal conservation area.”

Mark Andrews, a local photographer who’s frequented the area for 35 years, writes to me that the “BLM and the Friends of Gold Butte group have removed countless miles of road and open land access from free use. Places I used to go for decades are now blockaded. These are roads that are nearly 100 years old and in steady use. And this activity has become very aggressive and pronounced in the last 24 months. They seem to have a deep agenda regarding it.”

The area south of Mesquite “is really the only public area Clark County has left that’s not designated for some conservation area, or preserve, or monument, or whatever.” Bundy says. “I’m really the only resource user who’s still got any interest use in the land.”

Attempting to cooperate with their federal overseers, “year-by-year their operations were crippled by rising fees and reductions in AUM (animal units monthly),” wrote Tim Findley in the summer, 1999, edition of Range. “The numbers of actively used allotments were rapidly diminishing. The cattlemen took their cases to court, and won, but the BLM simply imposed new ‘force and effect’ regulations. More ranchers gave up. . . .”

The “right amount of grazing,” in the minds of Mr. Bundy’s adversaries, is no grazing. So let’s not pretend this is about the minuscule contribution Bundy’s grazing fees might make to balancing the federal budget.

The real plan here is to turn hundreds more square miles into another “federal conservation area,” if not an outright “wilderness.” How is that supposed to generate any more federal revenue, let alone significant local economic activity?

The Las Vegas Review-Journal – Nevada’s big daily — regularly receives letters to the editor which are essentially form letters, though they bear different signatures. Typical was one received in 2012 above the signature of Terri Rylander, a member of “Friends of Gold Butte,” in which Ms. Rylander identifies herself as “a business owner living in Mesquite. (Her business is marketing and Web page design.) In a piece of boilerplate common to most of these letters, hers asserts: “People may visit special places like Red Rock Canyon and Gold Butte for different reasons — camping, hunting, hiking, bird watching — but all visitors spend money in our communities at restaurants, hotels, gas stations, and retail stores. Protecting Gold Butte as a national conservation area with wilderness will put this unique area on the map, drawing visitors … and ensure a steady stream of revenue to local communities like Mesquite.”


A June, 2011 study conducted by researchers at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, Utah State University, holds otherwise.

“We find that when controlling for other types of federally held land and additional factors impacting economic conditions, federally designated Wilderness negatively impacts local economic conditions,” wrote USU researchers Brian C. Steed, Ryan M. Yonk, and Randy Simmons. “Specifically, we find a significant negative relationship between the presence of Wilderness and county total payroll, county tax receipts, and county average household income. . . .”


“Wilderness . . . is the most restrictive of all federal land-use designations,” the Utah researchers point out. “To preserve wild characteristics, the Wilderness designation prohibits roads, road construction, mechanized travel, and the use of mechanized equipment. Wilderness also impacts extractive industries such as mining, logging, and grazing.”

In a footnote, the researchers explain: “Grazing is expressly allowed in Wilderness Areas, but administrators may make ‘reasonable regulations’ including the reduction of grazing to improve range conditions. . . .”

Ask Cliven Bundy about those “reasonable regulations.”

“Environmentalists claim that Wilderness contributes to a healthy tourism industry,” the Utah researchers continue. But ”The argument often stated by the environmental community that Wilderness is good for local economies is simply not supported by the data. If the test for whether or not to designate Wilderness is economic, Wilderness fails.”

Nor is it clear that cattle grazing damages the range. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that ranchers with their drip lines and water tanks — supporting quail and deer and other populations as well as cattle — and the ungulates themselves, cropping the graze close enough to the ground to allow new green shoots accessible to the tortoise while reducing the fuel build-up that fosters wildfires — are a net benefit to the country, before we even consider our need for wholesome, free-range beef.

Citizens of any state East of the Rockies would likely riot at a proposal that the federal government take over 86 percent of their state’s land area, systematically evicting them and regulating their property rights out of existence. The crippling economic consequences of such a taking would be obvious. How, then, did Nevada get into precisely that bind?

In his 1999 profile of Bundy for Range magazine, Tim Findley reported Cliven Bundy in the 1970s was willing to embrace the “multiple use” of the rangelands then being promoted. “He was patient and tried to cooperate with advice from those he considered his friends in the BLM,” Findley wrote.

“But everything we tried to do — every time we tried some compromise — they wanted more,” Bundy told Findley. “It was like talking to a greedy landlord. Everything became lockout or lockup.”

Findley then referred to former Nevada District Court Judge and rancher Clel Georgetta, who for the first time in his 1972 book “Golden Fleece in Nevada” presented the then “almost subversive” legal doctrine that claims by the federal government to more than 86 percent of the land of Nevada “amounted not only to a violation of the intention of Lincoln’s administration in promoting Nevada’s statehood in 1864, but of previous constitutional findings on the ‘equal footing’ of states admitted to the union.”

Thus was born the “Sagebrush Rebellion.” 1979 legislation introduced by then-state Sen. Dean Rhoads, directing the state attorney general to sue the federal government for control of all federal lands not specifically set aside for federal forts, post offices or Indian reservations, “is still a part of Nevada law,” Findley reported, “backed even more by a statewide referendum in 1996 in which voters overwhelmingly supported the idea of state control of public lands.”

So why hasn’t it happened?

“The Nevada attorney general has never taken the argument to federal courts,” Findley explained.

The last state attorney general to specifically, personally promise me he would bring that “no jurisdiction” claim to federal court (specifically, in the matter of Yucca Mountain) — and then fail to do so? Brian Sandoval.


In his 1989 book “Storm Over Rangelands,” the late Nevada rancher Wayne Hage detailed how ranchers, miners, and others possess split title to the Western lands.

Though a foreign concept east of the Rockies, here in the arid West it’s not unusual for different parties to own, say, the grazing and water rights versus the mineral rights to overlapping parcels of land, while neither claims to “own” all the land, outright. This system, deemed appropriate to the landscape, has been established over 170 years, and federal attempts to regulate those long-established rights out of existence violate basic constitutional rights, Hage argued.

“Public lands are a myth,” Hage wrote. “The lands are already privatized. We already have those rights, and the federal government does not have jurisdiction.”
The BLM confiscated Hage’s cattle, up Tonopah way. He fought them through the courts for years — and won.

In fact, at www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/18056-war-on-the-west-why-more-bundy-standoffs-are-coming, William F. Jasper wrote on April 15 that Chief Judge Robert C. Jones of the Federal District Court of Nevada last year ruled the BLM had been engaged in a decades-long criminal “conspiracy” against the Wayne Hage family, fellow ranchers and friends of the Bundys. Among other things, Judge Jones accused the federal bureaucrats of racketeering under the federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organizations) statute, and accused them as well of extortion, mail fraud, and fraud, in an effort “to kill the business of Mr. Hage.” In fact, the government’s actions were so malicious, said the judge, as to “shock the conscience of the Court.” Judge Jones granted an injunction against the agencies and referred area BLM and Forest Service managers to the Justice Department for prosecution.

“Has Attorney General Eric Holder prosecuted any federal officials for criminal activity and violation of the Hage family’s constitutionally protected rights?” Mr. Jasper asks. “No. Has Sen. Harry Reid denounced this lawlessness and criminal activity by government officials and call upon President Obama and Attorney General Holder to protect the citizens of his state from the depredations of federal officials under their command? No.”

Wayne Hage died soon after winning his decades-long court fight. His daughters continue the struggle.

Ironically enough, Nevada ranchers themselves have resisted reform in the past — big operators up north reportedly like it just fine that they don’t owe any county property taxes on most of the land they graze.

Findley’s 1999 piece for “Range” has President Ronald Reagan asking his Interior Secretary, James Watt, why the federal government couldn’t end its dominion over nearly one-third of the nation’s lands by selling them off or transferring them back to the states. Watt had to explain to the president that wasn’t really what the ranchers wanted.

Years later, addressing a 1994 cattleman’s meeting, “Watt said Nevada sabotaged the Sagebrush Rebellion,” related Demar Dahl, former head of the state cattleman’s association. “When it came down to it, a lot of the big ranchers were afraid of losing their (federal) allotments.”

Local politicians, as well, find it “hard to turn down that $5 million or whatever,” that Uncle Sam routinely showers on local municipalities, Bundy acknowledges. “My side don’t have much cash. But the other side has put us, what is it, $60 trillion in debt.”

Indeed they have. Yet one of these days they will descend again, with trucks and helicopters and “contract cowboys,” hired with mostly borrowed money, to try and drive the last cattle rancher in Clark County out of business.


Sitting in his living room on April 24, Cliven told me about riding his horse along the west shore of Lake Mead this winter, many miles south of his ranch, looking for strays.

“There used to be lots of four-wheeler trails goin’ to the water; now they’ve all been cabled off, it’s all no-parkin’, so you can’t get in there,” he explained. Cliven figures he rode his horse 30 miles, from Overton to Echo Bay, along the shores of a lake which is supposedly a “National Recreation Area.”

“I saw four or five cows, eight or 10 donkeys, and no people. Maybe two boats out on the lake, senior citizens fishin’. I was out there on Fridays and Saturdays, beautiful weather, and I didn’t see any people except for a few rangers and Parks Service maintenance people. The people quit usin’ it. They’ve got a new million-dollar toll station gate, and nobody usin’ it. The people don’t feel welcome.”


(END PART FIVE OF SIX: “Driving the Ranchers Off the Land”)



NOTE: Newsstand distribution of “Range” can be quirky, through no fault of the publishers. But anyone can call 1-800-RANGE-4-U and ask for a sample copy (or pay $5 to have the current issue mailed.)

One Comment to “Driving the Ranchers Off the Land, Part 5 of 6”

  1. MamaLiberty Says:

    I suspect the answer to at least some of these questions can be found in the UN “Agenda 21.” The goal is absolute power and control of the planet by a few ultra elites, after they manage to murder most of the rest of us.

    Now, I don’t happen to think it is possible for them to achieve their goal completely, but an awful lot of us will suffer and die in the process in any case.