Feds back down in Bundy Ranch confrontation

Faced with the potential for a 21st century range war, the federal government has pulled back and returned the cattle it rounded up to rancher Cliven Bundy. At least for the moment, the federal government has realized that it would have to potentially slaughter grass roots Westerners whose grievances include the fact that the federal government owns 80% of the land in Nevada and much of the Western third of the country, and who resent what they see as the high-handed prioritizing of a purportedly endangered turtle over the livelihood of families who have been stewards of the land for as much as a century.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports:

BLM Director Neil Kornze said in a statement Saturday, “Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public.”

The visuals have been absolutely terrible for the government, as John Hinderaker pointed out:

Readers old enough to remember the name Bull Conner can appreciate how resonant this image is, and how it casts the federal govenrment in the role of civil rights violater. And speaking of civil rights, this approach is another disaster:

And now that critical analysts have noticed that Kornze is newly-installed in his job after many years working for Harry Reid, that the Bureau of Land Management wants the water rights to send to Reid’s pals in the casino industry in Vegas, and even that a possible federally-subsidized Chinese-owned solar farm deal involving Harry Reid’s son was at stake, the feds seem to have decided that the necessary bloodshed to continue their course would lead to political embarrassment.

Throughout the dispute, the Clark Country Sheriff Doug Gillespe served as the intermediary between the federal forces and the protestors, and it was he who broke the news of the federal retreat. From the LVRJ:

Gillespie, flanked by several deputies, announced the BLM deal breakthrough to hundreds Bundy supporters Saturday morning.

“The Gold Butte allotment will be reopened to the public,” the sheriff said, referring to the land. “And BLM will be removing their assets here in Clark County. What I would hope to sit down with you and talk about is how that is facilitated in a safe way. We may not have always agreed, but we have been respectful of each other’s opinion and to the process. And that’s why I’m here: to start that with you and to advise you of that.

There are some Nevadans who are unhappy:

Rob Mrowka, an ecologist with Nevada’s Center for Biological Diversity, said Bundy has been hurting the desert tortoise and living free off the land for decades. It was Mrowka’s organization that sued in federal court to kick-start the government into protecting the land and the tortoise.

He said the government is now giving in to “an armed anarchist group.”

The Gold Butte land is supposed to be for the tortoises, who have been displaced from their natural habitat by development in the valley, he said.

“He’s got his cows trespassing,” he added.

Mrowka feels for the frustrated federal agents with whom he has talked.

“They’re trying to uphold the law and do what’s right for the land, but their leaders have pulled the carpet out from under them again,” he said.

But aside from Harry Reid, other Nevada politicians were siding with the protestors. The Boston Herald:

Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a statement praising the agency for its willingness to listen to the state's concerns. He earlier criticized the agency for creating "an atmosphere of intimidation" and trying to confine protesters to a fenced-in "First Amendment area" well away from the sprawling roundup area. (snip)

"The dispute is over, the BLM is leaving, but emotions and tensions are still near the boiling point, and we desperately need a peaceful conclusion to this conflict," U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said in a statement. "I urge all the people involved to please return to your homes and allow the BLM officers to collect their equipment and depart without interference."

I would expect that the feds are not going to stay in retreat, that they will wait for a more opportune moment to enforce their claim for grazing fees, which appears to be fully lawful. But it is the political process that could bring potential changes to the law.

The best outcome of all would be a reassessment of federal land policy and a devolution of ownership of most federal lands to state and local governments, where people are more in touch with the needs and desires of the actual inhabitants. If Obama and Valerie Jarrett were smart, they would seize the initiative on this point, even though it goes counter to their big government philosophy. At least they have realized that a Waco-style massacre and the attendant inquiries that would follow would not be helpful to their cause.

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