BEEF Daily

4 Lessons We Can Learn From Bundy


Evaluating the Bundy case reveals a wider issue for many of us -- are grazing rights on federal lands in jeopardy?

My family sat around the supper table this past weekend discussing the Cliven Bundy vs. the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) standoff. It’s hard to feel sorry for a guy who broke the rules as he did. After all, Bundy has evaded paying his grazing bills for 20 years and the government has expended a lot of effort and taxpayer dollars to wage court cases, not to mention what it wasted in a failed paramilitary-style move last week to try to confiscate Bundy’s cattle.

If Bundy had played by the rules first and then fought the broken system that changed the terms of his grazing agreement, I would probably be more sympathetic. Obviously, however, this issue wouldn’t have received the national attention it has, if Bundy had buckled under and just gone out of business like the 50 or so other ranchers that BLM drove off the allotment. Bundy is the last man standing.


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Granted, the idea of losing a lifetime of work, a legacy of cattle ranching, and a family ranching tradition is a heartbreaking prospect. What will be left for Bundy after this is all said and done? Who knows, but it’s tough to fight the government with all the resources it has at its disposal.

But what does this case mean for the rest of us?

Our ranch doesn’t have any leases on public ground, but I have plenty of friends across the U.S. who do utilize grazing agreements on public land. The land can be rented for a fraction of the cost of a private lease, though public land grazing carries with it a new set of responsibilities and headaches. In many cases, public land leases are the only way that western ranchers can put together an economically viable unit of land for grazing.

I think what disturbs me the most about recent cases involving the BLM is that our government seems to be at odds with the original stewards of the land -- ranchers.

Just take a look at the recent activities of BLM:

Cattle were slaughtered needlessly in the Bundy case. Read: BLM Feds Slaughtered Cattle During Bundy Siege

BLM rounded up wild horses in Wyoming and sold them to the highest bidder. I thought these horses were supposed to be protected under the Wild-Free Roaming Horses and Burro Act? Read: Feds Draw Criticism For Selling Wyoming Horses For Slaughter

BLM has also set its sights on a big chunk of grazing land in Texas. Read: 90,000 Acres of Texas Ranchers’ Land About To Be Seized By the BLM

Acting under the guise of the interests of wildlife (though I think development opportunities far outweigh the priority of saving a turtle in the Bundy case), our government doesn’t appear to see the value in grazing livestock anymore. In the Bundy situation, cattle are deemed destructive to the habitat of an endangered turtle. meanwhile, in the Intermountain and Great Lake states, ranchers are painted as villains for trying to protect cattle from predators like wolves.

And you might recall a recent blog post I wrote about how grazing can reverse desertification; and, when cattle are taken off the land, the terrain becomes barren in a hurry. Yet, if our government doesn’t see the value in cattle grazing, what does the future of grazing look like on federal lands?

According to Michael Lofti, a political analyst and columnist for the Washington Times, “Turtles and cows have absolutely no relevance to the situation in Nevada. Does the Constitution make provisions for the federal government to own and control public land? This is the only question we need to consider. Currently, the federal government owns approximately 30% of U.S. territory. The majority of this federally owned land is in the West. For example, the feds control more than 80% of Nevada and more than 55% of Utah.”

Read the entire article and find out what percentage of the land in your state is owned by the federal government here.

Moral of the story: There are a few common themes the Bundy case reveals to us.

First, many Americans have a deep distrust of the government, believing it is misusing its power, and are ready and willing to put up a fight about it.

Secondly, there are many Americans who don’t trust ranchers to manage the land properly, so more lucrative opportunities like development projects are likely to take the place of cattle grazing on public grounds.

Third, a growing concern about wildlife is a huge topic of discussion in concrete jungles across the U.S., and animal agriculture is being painted as the cause of the problems and not the solution.

And, finally, Bundy has shown us that if you want to implement real change, you first must be on good standing with your responsibilities and commitments; second, you shouldn’t threaten force and not expect to be met in return with force; and third, wild west gun fights of years gone by have been replaced with discussions in court rooms and articles printed in the media -- if you want to win a fight, be prepared to go through the process of winning in both the court of law and with society’s perceptions of the situation.

There are many angles to explore in this Bundy case, and it serves as a good reminder on the importance of responsible grazing -- public or not -- because the spotlight is on us to demonstrate how well ranchers can serve as stewards of the land. If we don’t have access to grass, we won’t have the ability to raise beef. Graze responsibly, and be prepared to put up an intelligent fight if and when you’re grazing rights are ever challenged.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily reflective of or the Penton Agriculture Group.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 27

Terryn (not verified)
on Apr 21, 2014

Great post!

on Apr 22, 2014

Murray Rothbard once said: "It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.”

We have seen a lot of this type of "ignorance" with respect to the Bundy situation.

This piece is a shining example of historical ignorance of John Locke's philosophies (which were the foundation of American and integral to the Declaration of Independence) which includes his "homesteading" principle.

This principle is based on the self-ownership axiom. We each own ourselves. From there, it naturally follows that, if a self-owner finds a previously unclaimed natural resource and mixes his labor (Locke's term was sweat) with it, it becomes an extension of him and is therefore his property. Once this property right comes into existence, the rightful owner can do with it what he wishes (sell it, bequeath it, give it away, even destroy it if he so desires).

After 130 some years, the Bundy family rightfully owns, as a minimum, a property right in the grazing and water rights on that land. It owes the government nothing for grazing their cattle on their own land.

As far as the "grazing fee" is concerned, that is nothing but a tax on the property. All taxes are theft (a better description might be "armed robbery") Don't believe me? Try refusing to pay. They will kill you just like they are probably going to do the Bundy's.

Furthermore, hardly anybody realizes that the FedGov reneged on its contract to distribute the "public lands" to the state upon admission to statehood. At worst, Bundy's property is on State (not Federal) land.

This ignorance can be overcome by reading (and actually studying) Wayne Hage's "Storm over Rangelands" -- the definitive, foundational work in private property rights on so-called "public lands."

And even further, the very idea of a "public domain" consisting of over 60% of the land mass of the 11 western states is about as Un-American as one can get...pure communism straight out of Carl Marx.

Stuv (not verified)
on Apr 22, 2014

What you are stating is interesting but it doesn't hold water.

Bundy's predecessors signed papers stating that they didn't own the property. Thus giving up their 'right' to ownership of the land. While John Locke might be right, the sweat is only part of it. The person on the land also has to be able to protect that land. Ask the Native Americans what happened when they worked the land for years and were then forced off by someone bigger and stronger. They didn't work the land the same way a Rancher might, but they did put sweat and love into the land.

Self ownership is not property ownership. The 'grazing fee' is not a tax on the property, it is a grazing fee that keeps the lease in effect. If you lease some land to someone and they don't pay the lease, would you feel justified in 'breaking the lease' and kicking them out?

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 22, 2014

Except, of course, your "theory" has no basis in law. REAL LAW not made up law like u seem to believe. He has lost at every stage of court.

Chew on that

on Apr 22, 2014

Very well said. Agriculture has to constantly deal with being in a very minority position. Centralized governments grow in their power over agriculture.

John R. Dykers, Jr (not verified)
on Apr 22, 2014

jlabaume Since you intend to educate us, that is Karl Marx.
The paradigm is correct; there should be no BLM. OUTSIDE of National Parks, there should be no "federal lands". These should all be sold at public auction and the money applied to reduce the national debt and this would be fiercely resisted by a passel of bureaucrats currently being paid and supporting their families and lifestyles from their 'jobs' at BLM.
Amanda is sooooo right that we ranchers have, and generally do honor, an obligation to 'protect the land' from whence we make our living. If we don't, we won't make a living off it for long.

Dustin Cox (not verified)
on Apr 22, 2014

Key points that are missed.
One, He stopped paying his fee after they kicked ALL the others off that , mind you, that paid their fees. He stopped after AFTER they said get off because of the turtle.
Two- Grazing lease vs grazing right. Grazing on public lands is a right that someone purchases and still pays a monthly fee. Grazing on a private lease you have your monthly or yearly fee but you don't own the right to graze there indefinitely. Where on public land you do have the right until you sell that right.

Fritz Groszkruger (not verified)
on Apr 22, 2014

Yep, it's Karl, with a K. We named our second child Karl and I called my dad and said we named him after the Marx Brothers. Got a chuckle.

The Constitution never uses the words capitalism or communism but it defines our country as capitalist by Marx's definition. It came before Marx coined those words. Capitalism is private ownership of the means of production. If we were to define our enemies as those who oppose the system defined by The Constitution they would include the United States government... and, in the past, although not a direct threat, Vietnam and North Korea. We dishonor those sent to fight and die in those wars by accepting the system that includes public ownership of land.
Amanda and others on these pages do a great service to this nation by moderating a discussion that should have wide ranging implications. But her reference to the concrete jungles and the ignorance there reveals the huge obstacles we are up against and the reason we are forced to accept exceptions such as public ownership of national parks. This makes our stand unprincipled and difficult to defend.

Southwind (not verified)
on Apr 22, 2014

I thought Bundy was on state land and that the land was only administered by BLM after the Desert Tortoise problem. Of course the Tortoise managed to exist with Bundy and others cattle for over 100 yrs before it was deemed necessary to protect it. I thought the Bundy families position was that that they would pay the fees to Clark county who originally administered the land for the State of Nevada and that he refused to agree with the BLM involvement. This is not verified information but is what I garned from the news. Does it effect anyone but the public range ranchers; I think not. If the Lesser Prairie Chicken is threatened will Fish and Wildlife prohibit mowing hay meadows until late summer or fall until after the birds are done nesting? What about the new Corps of Engineers proposal to expand the description of the waters of the United States? Will they regulate clear back to the stock tank?
Did Bundy break the law? What about the Dred Scott decision? Few would think now that the court decided this issue correctly. If BLM had fired on the crowd would they be guilty? One threw a woman to the ground. Was the National Guard correct at Kent State? Only time will tell I guess, but as one who has been through an OSHA investigation and an IRS problem, the individual is guilty until proven innocent which is practically impossible to do since these organizations have so much authority to levy and fine without going to court. How could Bundy owe $1million dollars?

Dustin Cox (not verified)
on Apr 22, 2014

Good Qs. One q we need to ask ourselves. What would we have done? The founding fathers had had enough and sought to dissolve themselves from the current government. We need to get back to the founding principles and reign in the authority that these agencies assume not the authority they have the authority they assume.
Fees- bundy's grazing fees for 20 years would total around $250,000. The rest is probably fines that they put on for him not paying. He tried paying Clark County Nevada where his Ranch is and they sent the payments back. And recently is he has said I will pay to the proper government. He also said why would I keep paying the agency that is trying to put me out of business. Great question.

this is truth (not verified)
on Oct 20, 2014

This is the truth. He did attempt to pay that ridiculous amount of money. And they denied him. Who are we kidding, it is more than likely a back door brother in law deal. And the reasons the other ranchers left was becuase they couldn't afford to fight. They cut their losses at first wim of the blm due to the simple fact, you cannot win. As In this case. Unbelievable how much ignorance and hate in this world. And the best dam steak I ever ate.

Frank Schlichting (not verified)
on Apr 22, 2014

To be fair the government owns the land and they have the responsibility to manage it on behalf of all taxpayers. Just because they had been renting the land to Mr Bundy in the past doesn't mean that they are obligated to continue to do so in the future. I think the government has a responsibility to honor the terms of the lease as does Mr Bundy however I don't think that Mr Bundy should have any special entitlement over anyone else.

Personally I have a 10 year replaceable grazing licence from the British Columbia Government. I would expect the government would cancel the lease if I did not pay the required fees. I also would be disappointed if they chose not to renew the lease when it expired in 10 years but I understand they have the right to do so. After all I am the tenant they are the landlord. The property rights at stake here are with the government Mr Bundy is interfering with the government's right to do as they please with the land that they own.........not the other way around.

John R. Dykers, Jr (not verified)
on Apr 22, 2014

Southwind raised a related issue to which we should all pay close attention; " What about the new Corps of Engineers proposal to expand the description of the waters of the United States? Will they regulate clear back to the stock tank?" the answer, very likely.

on Apr 22, 2014

The new Corps of Engineers proposal to expand the description of the waters of the United States is clearly a land grab by the federal government because as we in agriculture all know: He who controls the water controls the land. We have to stop these power grabs by the current Bolshevik bureaucracy or or it's 1920s Russia all over again.

Yes it can and will happen if we allow it. Read up on it. Russian history from 1875 to 1955 is the blue print our Federal folks are building with.

We must remember that the primary purpose of bureaucracy is to sustain itself on the backs of the citizens.

K.McKenzie (not verified)
on Apr 22, 2014

How about these 4 lessons:
1. Treat others like you would like to be treated
2. Use the common sense God gave you
3. Bad behavior should never be rewarded or ignored
4. DON"T BELIEVE everything you read on the internet

Just curious many comments were NOT allowed to be printed since they had to be checked first by the moderators. Again, I want to say thanks for giving the people a forum ( free of most bullying seen else where) Enjoy the magazine and hope this Bundy issue is resolved in the court system where it should have been long ago. Kim McKenzie

on Apr 22, 2014

We invite and approve all comments, regardless of viewpoint, unless they are bullying, taunting, off topic, obscene or spam.

K.McKenzie (not verified)
on Apr 22, 2014

SO......... not all comments were allowed to be posted, correct?

on Apr 22, 2014


K.McKenzie (not verified)
on Apr 22, 2014

That's good to know that all those that commented were printed. Thanks for your service

Keith Evans (not verified)
on Apr 22, 2014

There is nothing to argue about. Bundy failed to pay his pasture rent, regardless of who owns the land, and the owner should use all legal means to collect the money.

on Apr 22, 2014

As a rancher I was sympathetic to the Bundy case. Now that I've seen the government in action first hand, I'm 100% on his side. I have property in the area I decided I'd see what was going on. I drove to the area before the so-called round up. Every road was closed, government vehicles everywhere. First amendment corrals set up on the edge of Mesquite.Helicopters overhead day and night.This was a police state action,not a bit different than what is going on in the Ukraine. This is America the so called land of the free.I'm now afraid of our leaders.I'll stand by Cliven Bundy any day against the likes of Harry Reid.

John Wilson (not verified)
on Apr 22, 2014

We have no BLM land , but do rent privately owned pasture . If we do not pay our rent we will loose our lease . Why does Mr Bundy feel he has the right to retain the lease without paying the rent ? Who legally owns the land that Mr Bundy was grazing on ?

on Apr 22, 2014

Maybe we have all missed what Bundy is up to. So far he has a pretty good case for adverse possession. The original meaning was that the court and sheriff announced that they were giving up on a trespass enforcement - tough luck original land owner.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 22, 2014

I'm afraid if Bundy had tried to work with BBM at the start, on their terms, he would of been out of business long ago. Hard to have a stand after the fact.

Charlie Vaughn (not verified)
on Apr 24, 2014

Initially I understood that the Bundy position was that the federal government had no authority over grazing in Nevada. His contention is that when Nevada became a state, the assessment of a grazing fee lied solely with the state of Nevada. Although the courts have not agreed with the Bundy arguments to date, I tend agree that Bundy probably should have negotiated a way to maintain good standing with the federal government. Perhaps the creation of some sort of fund that grazing fees could be paid to while the argument was appealed. this would have maintained his good standing and ensured the fed's that payment would be made upon a legal determination. I don't know if his core argument has reached a final resolution but the case certainly brings to light the problems that grazing lessees face with the oversight of the federal government who is more prone to enforce the Endangered Species Act rather than discuss and provide technical assistance to the lessee that provides innovative ways to co-manage wildlife and livestock within the same habitat, thereby improving the resource and the relationships with all involved. The fed's that we are talking about need to have a universal position on this issue that we can all understand. Ironically for the most part they are all under the Department of the Interior.

on May 1, 2014

Good article Amanda! It about sums up the Bundy situation at this point. A couple of questions that needs to be reviewed is:
1) Why wasn't this issue settled 20 years ago when he defaulted on the lease?
2) Why was it allowed for our government to spend another million dollars on this fisco? Now, the taxpayers are on the hook for probably over 2 million dollars, and still not settled!
3) Why has nothing been posted on how our government arrived at the million dollars that Bundy owes the taxpayer?
Bundy's issues has brought to my attention that how inefficent our government operates as a whole!

James Albiston (not verified)
on May 6, 2014

I was there. I have read the court documents. Bundy is wrong on every level.
Study the history and the court cases to find the truth.
It's made very clear Bundy is responsible for all costs incurred to enforce the rulings of the courts.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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