For 20 years, a tough-as-leather Nevada rancher and the federal government have been locked in a bitter range war over cattle grazing rights.
This weekend the confrontation got worse, when the feds hired contract cowboys to start seizing Cliven Bundy's cattle, which have been grazing on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The government officials brought a show of force that included dozens of armed agents in SUVs and helicopters.
Bundy, 67, who has been a rancher all his life, accuses BLM of stampeding over on his rights.
“This is a lot bigger deal than just my cows,” Bundy told FoxNews.com. “It’s a statement for freedom and liberty and the Constitution.”
The fight involves a 600,000-acre area under BLM control called Gold Butte, near the Utah border. The vast and rugged land is the habitat of the protected desert tortoise, and the land has been off-limits for cattle since 1998. Five years before that, when grazing was legal, Bundy stopped paying federal fees for the right.
“For more than two decades, cattle have been grazed illegally on public lands in northeast Clark County,” the BLM said in a statement. “BLM and (the National Park Service) have made repeated attempts to resolve this matter administratively and judicially. Impoundment of cattle illegally grazing on public lands is an option of last resort.”
But Bundy said he has grazed cattle on the land for decades, and his father and father's father did long before his 1,000 cattle roamed the area. He has long defied orders from bureaucrats he says are bent on running him out of business.
Bundy said he is worried BLM might try to turn the situation into another Waco or Ruby Ridge.
“Yeah, there’s a little fear in me,” Bundy said. “They’re definitely set up to do that.”
Federal officials said BLM enforcement agents were dispatched in response to statements Bundy made that the agency perceived as threats.