One of Bundy’s cousins opposes his defiance of federal authority. Conservationist Terri Robertson says the land deserves to be protected, and Bundy’s cattle are laying waste to the environment in the area. She notes the fragile yucca forests, tortoise habitats, sweeping desert and mountain vistas, and ancient rock art that is all vulnerable to depredation.
He’s just in a world of his own. I don’t think he’s working on all four cylinders.
Bundy says that his “city slicker” cousin is ignorant of desert life, though she was raised in the area, and says his cattle improve the environment.
Bundy’s 14 children and 52 grandchildren, some too young to walk, gather at the family home waiting for the BLM to arrive. Bundy gives one interview after another to reporters and bloggers, and makes frequent phone calls to local and state officials. The BLM sets up two “First Amendment areas” in nearby Bunkerville. The areas are intended to house protesters. (BLM later says it made the decision to set up the “First Amendment” zones because of Bundy’s promise to “be more physical” with federal officials during any confiscation process.) Outside Bunkerville, Bundy shows what he calls the BLM’s “compound” to a reporter: corrals, bales of hay, portable lights and mobile communications towers. Bundy says he is sure “government snipers” have rifles trained on him, and that they are eager to kill him.
They’re only there for one person, and that’s me.
The BLM temporarily closes off 322,000 acres of public land in preparation to collect Bundy’s cattle. In response, Bundy files a notice with the county sheriff titled “Range War Emergency Notice and Demand for Protection.” He claims to have an “army” of supporters from around the country ready to protect him. The local sheriff, Doug Gillespie, could stop the roundup if he wanted to, Bundy says. Fellow rancher Cliff Gardner says:
I think Cliven is taking a stand not only for family ranchers, but also for every freedom-loving American, for everyone. I’ve been trying to resolve these same types of issues since 1984. Perhaps it’s difficult for the average American to understand, but protecting the individual was a underlying factor of our government. … My support is that I am determined to stand by the Bundy family in any fashion it takes regardless of the threat of life or limb.
The BLM serves notice to Bundy that it intends to round up and confiscate the cattle he grazes on public lands. The impound notice lasts through March 23, 2015. The BLM says Bundy’s “illegal trespass cattle” will be rounded up “without further notice.” Bundy responds:
Tell them Bundy’s ready. Whenever they’ve got the guts to try it, tell them to come.
At least 568 cattle purportedly belonging to Bundy are grazing on federal land along a 90-mile swath in the Gold Butte area. Bundy also claims any unbranded or unidentified cattle in the area belong to him. Bundy calls the roundup “cattle rustling,” though the BLM says he can claim any confiscated cattle for his own if they bear his brand and if he pays the impound costs and trespass fees. Bundy says if his cattle are rounded up and eventually returned to him, he will see to it that they continue to graze on the same tract of federal land.
Conservationist Rob Mrowka says the area must be protected for the sake of the endangered desert tortoises in the area.
This situation is simply outrageous. It’s high time for the BLM to do its job and give the tortoises and the Gold Butte area the protection they need and are legally entitled to. As the tortoises emerge from their winter sleep, they are finding their much-needed food consumed by cattle.
Federal judge Larry Hicks warns Bundy not to “physically interfere with any seizure or impoundment operation.” Hicks also restates the no-trespassing order against Bundy issued by the US District Court, noting that Bundy continues to graze his cattle on public lands in defiance of court orders.
Bundy says he will defy the federal government if they press him on the issue of his cattle:
I’ve got to protect my property. If people come to monkey with what’s mine, I’ll call the county sheriff. If that don’t work, I’ll gather my friends and kids and we’ll try to stop it. I abide by all state laws. But I abide by almost zero federal laws.
Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins, a Bundy supporter who says he does not recognize the federal government’s authority, says of Bundy:
Cliven doesn’t want to be a martyr — the guy who shot it out with the feds, Waco-style. I just hope the government isn’t stupid enough to go pick a fight with him.
Bundy’s wife Carol says she, her husband and her children are ready to protect their land with violence:
I’ve got a shotgun. It’s loaded and I know how to use it. We’re ready to do what we have to do, but we’d rather win this in the court of public opinion.
Of her fifteen-year old son Arden, she says he will stand beside his parents if need be:
Arden doesn’t know life any other way. We’ve been fighting this war before he was born.
The BLM sends Bundy a list of the cattle seen grazing on public lands, and bills him nearly $330,000 for trespassing and investigation fees.
The US District Court for Nevada rules that Bundy has refused to comply with a 1998 court order to remove his cattle from the Bunkerville allotment, and further, he is grazing his livestock on “a broad swath of additional public lands” without approval. Moreover, the court finds that Bundy has caused “irreparable harm” by allowing his cattle to damage the public lands. In response, Bundy argues that the federal government has no jurisdiction over public lands, an argument rejected by Judge Lloyd George. He is again barred from trespassing on those lands, and given 45 days to remove his livestock. If he fails to comply, the government is authorized to seize and remove his cattle.
A federal court judge rules that Bundy’s cattle may be removed if he does not move them himself and pay the $300,000 he owes in grazing fees. Bundy’s cattle are grazing on the habitat of the desert tortoise, which is protected by the Bureau of Land Management. Bundy has declined to pay grazing fees since 1993 and has received multiple warnings, but he says that he has rights to the land over the BLM because his Mormon ancestors worked the land before the BLM was formed.
The BLM announces that it will round up and confiscate Bundy’s cattle.
Bundy responds to the BLM’s announced intention to round up his cattle with a letter implying that he will violently resist any such efforts:
I and the preemptors of this ranch have established preemptive rights created from beneficial use of water, forage, access, improvements and other rights belonging to We the People, of Clark County, Nevada. These rights, freedoms and liberties: I will do whatever it takes to defend and/or uphold.
The US Department of Interior offers to round up Bundy’s cattle and sell them, with Bundy receiving all of the profits. Bundy rejects the offer.
The BLM sends a notice of trespass to Bundy, and soon after notifies him that his cattle are subject to impoundment and sale.
Bundy tells a reporter he has “fired” the BLM and will continue grazing his cattle on the federal allotment no matter what the BLM says.
Bundy says he does not recognize the federal government, and will continue to graze his cattle on federal land regardless of what actions federal agencies may take. He says he will resist any effort by government officials to remove his cattle from federal lands.
The BLM notifies Bundy that if he does not remove his cattle and fencing from federal lands, the government will do it and charge him the costs. In response, he tells the agency that he will do whatever he deems necessary to protect what he calls his “unalienable forage, water and access rights”.
Bundy joins some fifty ranchers in a courtroom protest of rancher Cliff Gardner’s conviction of illegally grazing his cattle on federal land. The protesters say that states’ rights render federal law irrelevant, and say that Gardner’s conviction is meaningless. Some of them wear white wigs to emulate Revolutionary War patriots. Bundy says,
This court has tried to intimidate the citizens of Nevada by attempting to make an example of Cliff Gardner.
Bundy says that President Clinton’s establishment of the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument is an illegal federal land grab. His grandparents settled in the Parashant area of Arizona in 1877. Bundy says,
The terrible thing about it is there is private property, customs and lifestyles [at stake].
Virtually all of the 1.1 million acres of land in the monument area was federally managed land before it was designated as a federally protected monument area. The monument designation completes the protection of the entire Grand Canyon area, and renders it off limits for ranching, mining, oil/gas exploration, and development.
The BLM again decides not to forcibly impound Bundy’s cattle, and instead begins to formally investigate and document Bundy’s “willful trespass” on the designated land. By 2012, it will have documented 199 incidents of trespass, from a photograph of a single cow to the construction of an illegally built reservoir.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denies Bundy’s appeal of a federal ruling finding him guilty of trespassing and failing to pay his grazing fees. The court says,
Bundy has not shown why he could not or would not comply with the Court’s order [to cease grazing].
The court fines Bundy for willful trespass.
Citing the fragility of the endangered desert tortoise habitat in the Gold Butte area, the Clark County Desert Conservation Program permanently bans all cattle grazing from the area. Bundy ignores the ban and continues grazing his cattle on the land.
A friend of Bundy’s calls the Clark County Commissioners’ Office to threaten a “Ruby Ridge situation” if federal authorities attempt to enforce a court ruling that requires Bundy to remove his cattle from federal land. The reference is to a 1992 standoff between white separatists and the FBI in Ruby Ridge, Idaho that ended tragically.
The US District Court of Nevada finds Bundy guilty of trespassing on federal land with his cattle as well as finding him in arrears with the BLM, noting that he has not paid grazing fees since 1993. It permanently bans Bundy from grazing his cattle on the Bunkerville allotment. The court commends the BLM’s restraint in not confronting Bundy. Bundy, who represented himself, appeals the ruling and continues to graze his cattle on the land.
The Las Vegas police tell the BLM that they believe armed ranchers are planning a standoff in case the BLM moves to impound Bundy’s cattle. The BLM does not attempt to impound Bundy’s cattle or to make him pay his outstanding debt.
Bundy and some of his fellow ranchers say that the federal government has no rights to the 87% of the land it owns in that state. Bundy and his associates say that Nevada’s state rights invalidate federal rights. An area resident says that federal laws and court decisions mean nothing, and calls their resistance “a revolutionary war.” Bundy says:
I’m still saying the state of Nevada owns that land, and the federal government has been an encroacher. I’m not moving my cattle. We have … rights.
He says his personal rights to the land trump federal law, and that his rights derive from his contention that his Mormon ancestors were using the land well before the federal government claimed authority over it.
Tensions between the BLM and Nevada ranchers who refuse to pay fees or comply with regulations escalates. A small bomb goes off in the US Forest Service office in Carson City. Forest Service spokesperson Erin O’Connor says,
If it was sent as a message, we got it.
Federal workers travel the area in pairs and stay in contact with their offices for fear of being assaulted. Forest Service official Jim Nelson says:
I’m concerned about the safety of my employees. They can’t go to church in these communities without having someone say something. Their kids are harassed in school. Stores and restaurants are not serving them.
Nelson says that the government manages the land for the best use of ranchers and everyone else, and that unattended, free-ranging cows that graze the land illegally despoil the protected springs and stream banks. Bundy says:
They’ve taken their authority and abused it. I’m not being regulated to death anymore.
Bundy, still refusing to pay his grazing fees to the federal government, sends a payment check to Clark County instead. The county returns his check, citing a lack of jurisdiction.
The BLM wins a federal judgment against Bundy. The court finds that he owes $25,218 in grazing fees and delinquent fees. Bundy refuses to pay. At one point, he throws away a notice left on the dashboard of his car. According to BLM figures, Bundy now owes over $90,142 in grazing fees and penalties.
The BLM offers a ten-year grazing permit to Bundy, written to alleviate the impact of his cattle on the endangered desert tortoise habitat by capping his allowance of grazing cattle to 150 head. Bundy refuses to accept the permit and continues to graze his cattle on the Bunkerville allotment, which by now consists of over 10,486 acres of National Park Service land at the northern end of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. He also stops paying his federal grazing fees (approximately $2/head) in what he calls a “protest” against the permit. The Washington Post reports,
Cliven Bundy, whose family homesteaded his ranch in 1877 and who accuses the government of a “land grab,” are digging in for a fight and say they will not willingly sell their grazing privileges to create another preserve.
The BLM revokes his permit to graze, and begins closely tracking his delinquent grazing fees. The BLM is charging Bundy $1.35 per month per head of cattle to graze on federal land.
The desert tortoise is officially listed as a threatened species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Among the land designated as a tortoise habitat is the federally managed area near Bunkerville, Nevada, where Bundy has been grazing his cattle for years.
Bundy applies for a transfer of his father’s permit to graze cattle on federally managed land. Bundy is already grazing his cattle illegally on the land. The BLM denies the permit, citing unpaid delinquent fees. Bundy continues to graze his cattle on the federal land.
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy begins paying grazing fees in order to use publicly owned lands for his cattle.
Rancher David Bundy is found to be delinquent on his grazing fees to the BLM. He will eventually pay what he owes.
David Bundy, the father of future rancher Cliven Bundy, applies for permission to graze cattle on federally owned land in the Gold Butte area north of Las Vegas. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grants the request.
David Bundy brings his family, including his two-year old son Cliven, from Bundyville, Arizona and buys a 160-acre ranch in Clark County, Nevada from Raoul and Ruth Leavitt. Water rights are transferred to Bundy’s land, but do not impact the federally managed land surrounding the ranch.