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.”
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 beefmagazine.com or the Penton Agriculture Group.
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