Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy became an American “hero” on Saturday.

Cliven Bundy
Cliven Bundy

It appears we are extremely desperate for “heroes” these days.

Bundy has been running cattle on government-owned land — as in, owned by the government since the Mexican Cession in 1848, never owned by the Bundy family itself — and in 1993 he decided he didn’t want to pay fees for grazing rights to that land.  Again, his family may have been grazing on that land since the late 1800’s, but the family itself has never owned the land in question.  As with so many ranchers who play by the rules, you need to pay a fee to use that land in order for that land to be managed.  It’s things like that that, if properly managed, keeps the land from being overgrazed and becoming useless.

It’s methods like paying for grazing rights that keep anyone and everyone from running as damn well many cattle over the land as they damn well please.  Think of it like a traffic light.  Without things like a traffic light, anyone and everyone controlling a motorized vehicle could go whenever and wherever they damn well please, and to hell with anyone else.

Should we just do away with any and all regulation and let everything — including our natural resources — go down the crapper?  Apparently, Bundy and his supporters believe so.  Bundy’s been fighting over paying these grazing fees that so many other ranchers pay for over the past 20-plus years — effectively giving Bundy an unfair advantage over ranchers who play by the rules trying to make the same living Bundy’s family has for so many years.  In 1998, Bundy was legally prohibited from grazing his cattle on the land near Bunkerville, Nevada.  He received fair warning that if he didn’t cough up the money he owed for trespassing, his cattle would be confiscated and auctioned off.

Instead of playing by the rules, Bundy thumbed his nose at them and decided to run even more cattle on the land instead — giving himself even more of an unfair advantage over the ranchers who do play by the rules, effectively ripping off American taxpayers in the process.  The legal fight continued as the years went on, Bundy faced around a million dollars in unpaid fees, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finally stepped in and started backing up its words with actions.  They started confiscating Bundy’s cattle.

Images from the Cliven Bundy standoff.
Images from the Cliven Bundy standoff.

Bundy went whining to Fox News, Bundy went whining to Alex Jones, Bundy went whining to Sean Hannity, and before you knew what was happening, militias from all over started popping up in rural Nevada, treating Bundy’s “stand” like it was some modern-day Boston tea party.  Right-wingers salivated over putting a stop to what they saw as a standoff akin to what was seen in Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho, which claimed lives.

All over one rancher who didn’t want to play by the rules and wanted his cattle to eat as much as they could wherever they could, all so he could get more dollars in his bank account.

The “standoff” ended Saturday when the BLM backed away.  The situation was getting ugly.  And America now has another right-wing “hero.”

Man, we are sadly desperate for heroes these days.

I’ve been watching this with great interest since word has been popping up about it over the past several days.  Part of my childhood was spent on a dairy farm/cattle ranch operated by my grandparents.  My grandfather knew what it took to graze cattle the right way:  You let them eat where there’s food, when the food source is eaten down you move them to a different area and let the area that was grazed be replenished.  It’s a natural cycle.  Overgrazing is an idiotic concept, but it happens among those who are foolish, irresponsible, and have little more than dollar signs floating in their heads.

The Bundy story also brought back memories of the days when I was managing editor for a small daily newspaper in southeast Idaho, in the heart of potato and cattle country.  I took on a big project myself which examined public vs. private property issues.  I spent a fair amount of time looking at the case of a farmer/rancher in the Aberdeen area who was running into problems with the state Department of Fish and Game telling him what he could and could not do on his property.

One example that comes to mind today is the memory of the property owner wanting to pull up an area of Russian Olive bushes on his land before they started taking over.  If you’ve never come across Russian Olives, they’re nasty, basically useless weeds that can be used for cover and protection by birds who eat the fruit, poop out the seeds and bring about more bushes filled with needle-sharp growth.  Fish and Game fought with the property owner to keep him from pulling up the bushes.

That was a case where a government agency — a state agency in that case — did infringe on the rights of a property owner to do what he felt was necessary within the bounds of his own land.  That was a case where a government agency was out of line.

bundy foxIn Bundy’s case, the issue of private vs. public lands should not be confused.  But in Bundy’s case, it’s been exploited by Bundy running to the extreme anti-government talking heads and whining about how tyrannical the actions against him have been, when the fact remains that Bundy is simply breaking the law, giving himself an unfair advantage because of it, forcing American taxpayers to foot his bill, and becoming a right-wing “hero” because of it.

Cliven Bundy and his anti-government supporters may feel like they’ve won this standoff.  What was lost out of it was common sense and balanced land management.  It’s a balance that — out here in the West — is very delicate.

Try making sense out of this story.  I dare you.

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