Saturday, January 9, 2016

Collision between ranchers and tortoises aka collusion between federal agency and county government in Nevada

This is a long but very good background report on the origins of the Bundy movement. I quote only relevant passages here to save time for prospective readers. I can't help repeating that it's not the mission of The DOOMMM Club to arbitrate disputes within the hunam species. It's important to get some general idea about the issues involved, but our purpose in doing this is not to determine who are the bad guys of the story, but to try to fathom the potential for escalation. In the Bundy case, as in most others, reality is ambiguous enough to allow interested/involved people to freely exercise their confirmation bias creating perfect "dialogue of the deaf" conditions. And this is what really matters.

The Bundy case is important because it's become a major symbol of a vast and growing clash between the rural and urban Americas. The emphasis in this post is on the Endangered Species Act as one of the primary mechanisms though which this conflict is being generated.

BY JONATHAN ALLEN (Reuters, May 30 2014) {

In its years-long dispute with Bundy, the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has portrayed the rancher as a scofflaw, free-riding on the backs of roughly 16,000 ranchers on BLM allotments across the United States who pay their grazing fees. They say he now owes $1 million, most of it fines.

But interviews with some of Bundy's former rancher neighbors and ex-BLM officials suggest the reality is more complex: in Clark County, at least, the BLM no longer wanted the ranchers’ fees. It wanted them off the range to fulfill its legal obligation to protect the tortoises living on its land. To achieve this, it joined forces with the county government.

[...]

Rancher Cliven Bundy once had neighbors on the range: when the tortoise was listed, there were about 50 cattle-ranching families in the county. Some of them fought court battles to stay, rejecting the idea their cattle posed a danger to the tortoises. But, one by one, they slowly gave up and disappeared.

Bundy has proven himself one of the most tenacious of this vanishing breed. Backed by armed militiamen, the rancher forced federal agents to stop rounding up his cattle in April, which were grazing illegally on public lands shared by the tortoises.

[...]

When the tortoise was listed in 1989, Las Vegas, the county seat, was one of the fastest-growing U.S. cities. For Vegas to spread even an inch farther into the tortoise-filled desert risked a federal offense under the Endangered Species Act.

The county successfully sought a permit that would allow development that inadvertently killed tortoises in some parts of the county if they funded conservation efforts in other parts.

To get the permit, the county made numerous commitments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help the desert tortoise thrive. One of those promises was to pay willing ranchers to give up their grazing rights.

The rationale for ending grazing cited by federal government agencies was plausible but, the agencies conceded, unproven: that livestock grazing harms desert tortoise populations, in part because they compete for the same foods, such as grasses and the new spring growth of cacti.

[...]

Some ranchers seemed happy with the money they were offered, said Budd-Falen, the lawyer.

But ranchers interviewed by Reuters said that given the choice they were presented with, their sales were hardly willing.

"We had no say in what we were going to get," said Calvin Adams, who also ranched on the Bunkerville allotment.

About seven years after first fighting the BLM before a judge, he accepted $75,000 to give up his grazing rights. "I couldn't afford to pay the lawyers when they just keep taking you to court," he said.

Bundy initially joined his neighbors in their legal fight to stay but then took a more hardline stance, refusing to recognize federal authority over the land.

Bundy maintains the BLM’s aim from almost the moment the tortoise was listed was to drive the ranchers out of Clark County on a pretext he dismissed as "wacko environmental stuff."

"I could tell that the BLM was trying to manage us out of business," Bundy told Reuters, explaining his decision to stop paying grazing fees.

[...]

Clark County is not an isolated case. Disputes over land rights are playing out in many Western states, especially in rural areas, where some residents and lawmakers question the legitimacy of the federal government's claim to swathes of land.

In New Mexico, a county government is arguing with federal land managers over whether a rancher can take his cattle to a fenced-off watering hole. In Utah, protesters have been defiantly driving all-terrain vehicles down a canyon trail closed by the U.S. government.

"Clark County made a choice: urban development is far more important to us than ranchers on the periphery of the county,” said James Skillen, author of a book about the BLM called “The Nation’s Largest Landlord."

"The BLM is part of that larger tension between a kind of urban and environmentally conscious West and a traditional resource West," he said. "Those conflicts are just going to keep going and the Endangered Species Act is going to continue to be a mechanism of that conflict."

Source = Before Nevada stand-off, a collision between ranchers and tortoises}