Unbowed and unapologetic, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy is still running his cattle on disputed grazing land eight months after his highly publicized standoff over public lands, but that doesn’t mean his feud with the federal government is over.
In a tense confrontation that generated international headlines, the 68-year-old Mr. Bundy won that round last spring: Bureau of Land Management officials agreed to leave the property and release his impounded cattle after hundreds of armed supporters descended on the Southern Nevada ranch in April. He says he hasn’t seen any sign of federal agents since.
“[W]e’ve really enjoyed some liberty and freedoms out here,” Mr. Bundy told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last month.
“Since the standoff, we haven’t seen one BLM vehicle on any of these country roads around this ranch. We haven’t seen one BLM ranger. We haven’t seen one [National] Park Service ranger. We haven’t really seen any undercover-type people,” he said. “We haven’t seen snipers on top of our hills. We haven’t seen high-tech communication equipment. We haven’t seen any of those things.”
Still, the victory came at a high cost. Mr. Bundy, a newcomer to the media spotlight, was vilified in the media and lost the backing of many prominent conservatives after he said at an April press conference that black Americans may have been better off under slavery than on welfare, comments critics denounced as racist.
His legal battle with the BLM over grazing rights, one that has resonated across the region, is ongoing. Mr. Bundy has refused to pay $1.2 million in grazing fees to the BLM, arguing that the land belongs to the state, not the federal government. The land rights issue is particularly heated in Nevada, where 85 percent of the land within the state’s borders is federally owned.
The BLM did not respond to a request for comment on the status of its dispute with Mr. Bundy at deadline.
Meanwhile, the FBI is reportedly conducting a criminal investigation into possible weapons violations and intimidation tactics against federal agents that occurred during the standoff at the Bunkerville ranch.
And Mr. Bundy’s son, Ammon Bundy, says the federal government is treating him as a “domestic terrorist,” which is what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Cliven Bundy and his supporters at the height of the April standoff.
Ammon Bundy said he was detained and questioned Nov. 1 by the Transportation Security Administration when he and his daughter tried to board a flight from Phoenix to Salt Lake City.
He followed up by having a background check conducted at Cabela’s, a federally licensed firearms dealer, which came up as “delayed.” A day later, the FBI lifted the “delayed” status, enabling him to buy a gun, he said in a post on the Bundy Ranch website.
None of this has apparently deterred the Bundy family patriarch, who remains as committed as ever to fighting what he sees as federal overreach on public lands. His latest skirmish comes over the BLM’s proposed Resource Management Plan update in Southern Nevada, which would place additional limits on federal lands by expanding what are known as “Areas of Critical Environmental Concern” (ACECs).
Mr. Bundy views the plan, which was released Oct. 9, as an effort by the BLM to retaliate against him and his family. He has urged his supporters to attend public meetings and send in comments on the proposal, which would affect 3.1 million acres of public land, by the Jan. 7 deadline.
“This is a direct assault on the state of Nevada. It is also a deliberate retaliation against the people for standing against the horrific action of several federal agencies at the Bundy ranch,” the Bundy family said in a blog post.
“What it amounts to is they’re going to treat this whole Southern Nevada area like wilderness. It’s a stricter rule for land use. It’s policing power is what they’re after,” Mr. Bundy told the Review-Journal.
Mr. Bundy may be getting some stronger local political support, with Republicans capturing both houses of the state legislature in the midterm elections, while GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval easily won re-election. The incoming state Assembly majority leader, Las Vegas Republican Michele Fiore, was a strong supporter of Mr. Bundy and outspoken critic of the BLM’s land management programs in April’s showdown.
Mr. Bundy is also the subject of a lawsuit filed in September by a 34-year-old Las Vegas woman who was injured when she drove into one of his cows on Interstate 15, but he says federal and state agencies should be held liable for the damages.
The accident happened April 13, during the standoff between the BLM and pro-Bundy protesters, when federal agents had “locked down the range” and had begun releasing previously impounded cattle, according to the Bundy Ranch in a statement.
“So here is the irony, Cliven’s life would have been taken by federal agents if he would have checked on the cattle, yet he is charged for neglect, carelessness and recklessness for not doing so,” said the statement. “We do not have to point out who was reckless, careless and negligent?”
If Mr. Bundy is discouraged, however, he’s not showing it. In a YouTube video posted shortly before Christmas, he thanked his supporters and said, “I really believe [Jesus] was with us at the Bundy ranch this past year, influencing us and blessing us.”
“I want to thank those who come and support us at the ranch and those who even put their life on the line,” Mr. Bundy said in a Christmas video on YouTube. “I want to thank you and say, ‘Merry Christmas.’”