EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 27, 2014

Column: Nevada cattle dispute prompts memories of 'Rawhide'

Barbara Anderson
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Head ‘em up, move ‘em out,

Move ‘em on, head ‘em out Rawhide!

Theme from CBS series “Rawhide” 1959-66.

Happy image of the month: cattle that had been confiscated by the federal government from a Nevada cattle rancher, set loose when the feds backed down, running home to the tune of the theme from “Rawhide.” “Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ ...”

Why did the feds back down, you ask if you didn’t happen to be watching Judge Jeanine on Fox News one recent Saturday evening, or following the drama on talk radio? I must tell you, because I’m still laughin’, laughin’, laughin’ ...

First, just the facts that are generally known Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy has been in a dispute with the Federal Bureau of Land Management for 20 years. In 1993, according to the Associated Press out of Las Vegas, “The BLM ... revoked Bundy’s grazing rights, on land his Mormon family settled in the 19th century.”

On April 5, 2014, the heavily-armed feds confiscated the first of hundreds of head of his cattle, tasering Bundy’s son when he tried to film them. The Bundys went to the media, and by April 12 the feds were challenged on Bundy land by armed sympathetic ranchers, cowboys, and militias from other western states, with more on their way. On April 14, the federal government backed down and released the remaining cattle, which ran home. “Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ ...”

Before I get to the complicated part, let me tell you that if I were young, I’d have filed this column last week from horseback on the western plains.

When we were kids, my best friend and I, inspired by Zane Grey books and numerous television shows like “Rawhide”, planned to ride horses across the Western range when we grew up. We were told by adults that most of the range is fenced now and we’d be riding down the middle of Route 50, but even so ... I emailed her to ask if she thought it’s too late for us to mount up. She said that it is.

So, still a writer instead of a cowgirl, I’ve did more research on the Bundy situation. These are the issues:

Who should control the range: From the movies, we remember the early range wars between cattle and sheep ranchers, between cattle ranchers over water rights. But many Western states, when they joined the Union, were treated differently than our Eastern states. Congress reserved vast amounts of land for the federal government, which seems in conflict with the very concept of statehood. The federal government owns 84 percent of Nevada (including the part on which it tested atomic bombs).

Ranchers were given the right to graze their cattle on the land. One Western friend I contacted argued that any ranchers who believed they had a contract with the federal government should check with the many Indian tribes across America that made the same mistake.

Bundy was accused last week by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, of not paying his fees and taxes; the delinquent tax charge turns out to be untrue (lyin’, lyin’, lyin ...), and it’s hard to follow the fee issue. If the federal government tells you to get your cattle off its land, to whom would you pay the fee while you resisted? Bundy supposedly says he’ll pay it to the state, which he says should be in charge of Nevada land, not the feds.

Animal rights: Initially, as a reason for reclaiming Bundy’s land, the feds expressed concern about the “threatened” desert tortoise having to share the range with cattle. This same federal government has reportedly euthanized hundreds of the reptiles because of lack of ongoing funding for its Desert Tortoise Conservation Center in Southern Nevada.

Meanwhile, wild-horse protection advocates say the government is rounding up too many mustangs while allowing sheep and cattle to feed on overgrazed federal land. The ranchers normally pay fees for the use of the land, while the horses run free for free.

The Bundys say some of their cattle, mostly females, were killed by the BLM, and some calves may have died because of separation from their mothers.

Michele Fiore, a Republican Nevada assemblywoman and Bundy supporter, said she has heard of other cases of the BLM mistreating animals.

“I have ... emails from ranchers across Nevada telling me that the BLM does the same practices when they are herding horses,” she told Breitbart News. “The foals are getting killed. Horses are getting killed. It’s really horrible and cruel.”

A BLM spokesperson confirmed last week that two bulls were shot during the roundup because they posed a “safety hazard,” according to the Las Vegas Review Journal. Ammon Bundy said one bull appeared to have been shot in the back of the head from a helicopter.

Enter, stage left: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on the side of the cattle.

“These animals shouldn’t be killed either by the government, or by the rancher who plans to send the cows off to slaughter,” the animal rights group said in a statement last Thursday. “The best thing anyone can do to stop the suffering of animals is to go vegan.”

I talked with my vegetarian son who lives in Nevada and has been following the situation. He too suggested that ranchers shouldn’t be given use of the people’s land to raise cattle, which isn’t the most efficient way to feed humanity. Fair point.

Follow the money: Rumors abound about Sen. Harry Reid, who calls the ranchers “domestic terrorists.” In recent years, he lobbied the BLM to change the boundaries of the tortoises’ habitat to accommodate development by Harvey Whittemore, Reid’s top political donor. Now, according to Investor’s Daily, Reid’s son is involved in “a plan by China’s ENN Energy Group to build what would be America’s largest solar energy complex ... in Clark County, where Bundy’s ranch is.”

Libertarian perspective: Another senator, Rand Paul, R-Tennessee, told Fox News that “lands should be given to the states, and the states should sell them to the people... Public ownership creates conflicts among various interests, such as environmentalists, gold miners, oil companies and ranchers,” he said, and problems will only increase when the economy gets into deeper trouble, as he predicts it will.

My perspective: Billionaire T. Boone Pickens’ wife has created a Nevada sanctuary for the wild horses; clearly, better use of 1-percenter folks’ money than giving more to the government. What little beef I buy will be from grass-fed free-ranging cattle like the Bundys’. Harry Reid should lose his job of Senate president this November. It’s fun to see the feds back down. I still want to be a cowboy ...

“Keep movin’, movin’, movin’,

“Though (the feds’r) disapprovin’,

“Keep them doggies movin’, Rawhide.”

Barbara Anderson is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a regular contributor to the opinion pages.