I find myself again breaking from a lot of folks on the right on this issue, and mostly out of concern for the rule of law.
Powerline had this piece last week on the Nevada ranch standoff that’s worth reading for another viewpoint. John Hinderaker argues that folks should feel sympathy towards the Bundys. But he has to preface it with this:
First, it must be admitted that legally, Bundy doesn’t have a leg to stand on. The Bureau of Land Management has been charging him grazing fees since the early 1990s, which he has refused to pay. Further, BLM has issued orders limiting the area on which Bundy’s cows can graze and the number that can graze, and Bundy has ignored those directives. As a result, BLM has sued Bundy twice in federal court, and won both cases. In the second, more recent action, Bundy’s defense is that the federal government doesn’t own the land in question and therefore has no authority to regulate grazing. That simply isn’t right; the land, like most of Nevada, is federally owned. Bundy is representing himself, of necessity: no lawyer could make that argument.
That’s why I can’t be on the side of the Bundys. And no matter the cries for sympathy, I have find myself having no more for them than I would for yesterday’s example of a hypothetical where Reverend Jeremiah “God Damn America” Wright used a church owned as a historic site by the National Park Service and then decided to ignore the law.
That being the case, why does Bundy deserve our sympathy? To begin with, his family has been ranching on the acres at issue since the late 19th century. They and other settlers were induced to come to Nevada in part by the federal government’s promise that they would be able to graze their cattle on adjacent government-owned land. For many years they did so, with no limitations or fees. The Bundy family was ranching in southern Nevada long before the BLM came into existence.
I don’t think he does deserve much sympathy. He’s broken the law for decades. Rather than create a conflict back in 1993 when he “fired” the BLM (which would be analagous to you or I “firing” the IRS… or a traffic cop) by choosing not to pay them, and with the BLM derelict in enforcement, he just kept on breaking the law. He didn’t make it an issue then to get the law changed, he just operated in violation of it because the BLM didn’t enforce it. I don’t have sympathy for Tim Geithner when he forgets to pay taxes and the IRS doesn’t bother to enforce it for a long time, and I don’t have sympathy for an illegal alien who ICE doesn’t deport until they finally do, so why should I have sympathy here?
The argument that he was there first by virtue of his family being there is meaningless. Working land that wasn’t yours in 1870 but before there was an enforcement structure for the owner to control it doesn’t mean it’s yours – especially when the owner of the land owned it since 1848.
Over the last two or three decades, the Bureau has squeezed the ranchers in southern Nevada by limiting the acres on which their cattle can graze, reducing the number of cattle that can be on federal land, and charging grazing fees for the ever-diminishing privilege. The effect of these restrictions has been to drive the ranchers out of business. Formerly, there were dozens of ranches in the area where Bundy operates. Now, his ranch is the only one.
Like the Blaze article yesterday noted… maybe other ranchers were “chased off”. Or maybe it’s part of Bundy’s yarn to make him the heroic last rancher standing. Alternately, that could mean he’s just a monopoly in the region.
Reducing the number of cattle on federal land, whether due to tortoises, or due to the kind of drought that has been hitting the west for the last decade doesn’t really matter. It’s not his land. The key word is privilege.
The land belongs to the federal government, not to Bundy. It’s up to them how they want to manage their land – it’s up to us as the people who direct that federal government how we want to manage our land.
If the law passed by our elected representatives says no and we don’t like that, then it’s time to pressure our reps and change the law. It’s not time to let one lawbreaker continue to violate it just because he’s managed to draw down on some BLM agents and wrap himself in some dramatic western martyrdom.
When Bundy refused to pay grazing fees beginning in around 1993, he said something to the effect of, they are supposed to be charging me a fee for managing the land and all they are doing is trying to manage me out of business. Why should I pay them for that?
Business models sometimes have to change. If the landowner says “no more grazing”, then maybe it’s time to find some greener pastures, rather than just declare “these are my pastures now”.
Frankly, the Bundy situation smacks of the self-righteous entitlement of a general strike where communist workers claim the factory is really theirs because they work there. It’s not the workers’ factory, and it’s not the Bundys’ land.
Hinderaker ends with this:
So let’s have some sympathy for Cliven Bundy and his family. They don’t have a chance on the law, because under the Endangered Species Act and many other federal statutes, the agencies are always in the right. And their way of life is one that, frankly, is on the outs. They don’t develop apps. They don’t ask for food stamps. It probably has never occurred to them to bribe a politician. They don’t subsist by virtue of government subsidies or regulations that hamstring competitors. They aren’t illegal immigrants. They have never even gone to law school. So what possible place is there for the Bundys in the Age of Obama?
I’d like to have sympathy, but just because the Obama administration is lawless doesn’t justify actions of individuals who’ve been ignoring the law since the beginning of the Clinton administration.
The Bundy’s family’s way of life is on the outs because they refused to change. Their business model didn’t advance because their cattle were grazing for free since 1993.
They didn’t need food stamps because they were feeding their livestock on taxpayer lands. They’re no different than if Weyerhauser decided to start cutting down national forests without permission, and then cried that their lumberjack way of life was dying because the Forest Service finally told them to stop two decades later.
They subsisted entirely because of government subsidies. They subsisted entirely because of regulations that hamstrung their competitors – the other ranchers who were “squeezed out” were legal – the Bundys just chose to break the law.
Update: From a local Nevada news outlet, contrasting the Bundy claims:
…the 1998 opinion from U.S. District Judge Johnnie Rawlinson in a case where it was determined Bundy wouldn’t be allowed to use federal land for his cattle because of failure to pay grazing fees to the Bureau of Land Management. Rawlinson wrote that it wasn’t until roughly 1954 that “Bundy or his father or both have grazed livestock on public lands owned by the United States and administered by the BLM.”
Clark County Recorder documents show the 160-acre Bunkerville ranch Bundy calls home was purchased by his parents, David and Bodel Bundy, from Raoul and Ruth Leavitt on Jan. 5, 1948. The purchase included the transfer to the Bundys of certain water rights, including water from the nearby Virgin River. Cliven Bundy was born in 1946.
And federal grazing districts were established nationally in 1934 and in Nevada in 1936.
Furthermore, every word written about the Bundys is a word not written about the Red River along the Texas-Oklahoma border, where the BLM is looking at seizing 90,000 privately held acres of land.
Really, it’s a much bigger story, and it is black and white:
BYERS, Texas (RFD-TV) Most people think the border between Texas and Oklahoma is the Red River. Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than that, especially along the part of the river where Tommy Henderson and his family ranch.
Henderson lost a lawsuit 30 years ago that moved part of the northern Texas border over a mile to the south.
The Bureau of Land Management [BLM] took 140 acres of his property and didn’t pay him one cent.
Now, they want to use his case as precedent to seize land along a 116-mile stretch of the river.
“They’re wanting to take the boundaries that the courts placed here and extend those east and west to the forks of the river north of Vernon and east to the 98th Meridian which is about 20 miles east of us,” Henderson explained.
BLM, which oversees public land in the United States, claims this land never belonged to Texas.
That’s not leases that they haven’t paid in over 20 years, that’s their own land.