Cliven Bundy’s Nevada cattle are part of a crisis that unites western lands, the county sheriff, and a governor’s power to nullify federal abuse. These three issues have grown into a standoff with national implications.
At issue is the question, who owns the land—the federal government, or the people who form the government? If the federal government owns America, Bundy is an obstinate, stubborn trespasser. If the people own America, they have the right to use it. No federal bureaucracy should own 84% of Nevada, or any other state.
America’s Northwest Ordinance of 1787 set the policy that all states entering the Union came in under the same terms. Land within a newly admitted state would be sold to those who then became its citizens. Minimal federal lands for postal roads, arsenals and such were purchased from each state. The vast majority of a state’s land would be privately owned under state administration.
Eastern states were admitted under this policy. It was ignored for western states, the poor stepsisters of the American Union. The federal government refused to sell western lands, and held vast portions of it, which were rich with natural resources. This was unethical and illegal. The federal government now unlawfully owns 35% of the United States, mostly in the west. Though this illegality occurred well over a century ago, time has not rendered it less illegal. Impervious to its misconduct, the federal bully now runs states and individuals off the land it dishonestly withheld from them.
Cliven Bundy knows this history. For two decades he has grazed cattle on “federal” lands that should be state owned. He has refused to pay what he terms illegal federal grazing fees. The issue has become explosive.
Another problem ricochets through this incendiary conflict: that of environmentalists and the endangered desert tortoise. Bundy’s grazing areas are near, but not on, the desert tortoise’s designated natural habitat. In a process known as “sue and settle”, attorney Judson Phillips of the Tea Party Nation explains that environmental groups work quietly with the Environmental Protection Agency to take control of state lands. They bring a lawsuit, and the EPA mounts a tame defense. When the environmentalists win, the EPA is justified to launch new regulations that effectively strip the land from state jurisdiction. These are the “tricks of the trade” to escalate federal authority. Cliven Bundy and his cattle inhabit both issues—land ownership and EPA excess.
There comes a time when those who uphold the law must stand against those who trespass it. The stand against illegal federal ownership of state lands should have been waged and won over a hundred years ago. After Ronald Reagan’s election in the early 1980s, the Sagebrush Rebellion lit the west to demand that the feds back off. Those driving the “rebellion” could better have demanded that the feds move off.
Cliven Bundy may have decided to do just that—move the feds off. There is a western movement building under Rep. Ken Ivory (R-West Jordan) and the Utah-based American Lands Council to give misappropriated lands to their rightful state owners. If Bundy works peacefully and within the law, he could earn public support.
Will Bundy have the support and authority of his governor and county sheriff to protect him against the federal bully? Clark County sheriff Doug Gillespie can protect him. Governor Brian Sandoval can stand with him and begin the process to nullify unconstitutional federal authority. Will either accept the challenge?
It is a major step to stand against the federal government. That action would not be easy, swift, cheap, placid, or simple. It is, however, necessary. The only way to stop a bully is to push back, and stick with it. Without that, the bullying continues and results in more confiscations of state authority and lands. Someone has to start the ball rolling and stand against unfairness. Cliven Bundy may be that person.
Western states need not be Cinderella step-sisters; they have the rights to their territories, just as do eastern states. Bundy deserves the support of his governor, county sheriff, and Utah, as well.