An Open Letter to Cliven Bundy.

Dear Mr. Bundy.

I have been following your story with interest.

While I understand that the tactics employed by BLM agents against you may seem oppressive, your refusal to pay twenty years worth of fees for the use of federal lands has given the federal government little choice.

These lands are owned publicly, and are held in trust for the people of the United States of America by the Bureau of Land Management.  The BLM takes on the responsibility of maintaining this land, and this maintenance has associated costs.  I know; I have camped on several occasions on BLM land in Nevada and Utah.  I make use of these lands for a night, packing out everything that I packed in.  Cattle grazing is a far more intensive use of these lands, and particularly in sensitive areas of desert habitat, can cause a lot of damage.

I have no problem with you grazing your cattle on these public lands, but due to the fact that grazing is the use of a resource, you must compensate the United States of America for this use.  The way that this is managed is through the land use fees.

Now I understand that not actually having to buy land to graze your cattle on, and on top of that refusing to pay fees for the use of public range land, gives your ranching business quite an economic advantage.  But I have to ask myself; how long did you think that you would just get away with this theft?

It is theft, you know.  You’re stealing from all of us, and possibly most hurtfully from other ranchers who lawfully graze their cattle and pay use fees when they do so on public lands.

I know that you claim to own those lands, but your failure to produce any documentation to that effect, not even a homestead certificate (which if your family had been ranching and improving those lands for as long as you say, should have been in your ancestors’ possession at some point), is problematic.  That combined with the fact that no level of government has records of you owning the land makes you a liar.  If your family owned the land, why did you continue to pay usage fees up until 1993?

You did it because you don’t own the land.

Even under homesteading law, you would need to file paperwork with the government, and though Nevada still has some homesteading laws on the books, they do not grant you the right to move your cattle onto Federal land and then claim that it’s yours.

I understand your disappointment with the BLM.  I am disappointed with them also.  I am disappointed that it took the more than twenty years to end your theft of the public’s resources, and I’m very disappointed that it took the threat of a lawsuit from a non-government environmental group to get them to take action regarding said theft.  As far as I’m concerned, whoever is in charge over there should be investigated, probably fired, and then replaced with someone who has some kind of respect for their post, and the law that they are charged to enforce.

Speaking of the law, your claim to abide by state laws but not federal laws puzzles me.  You know that the federal government has taken steps to ensure that you can run your ranching business, right?  They put in interstates, and fund the highway programs on a state level so that you can get your beef to a processor and out to customers.  They provide management for the land that you illegally graze, and without said management, I reckon that land wouldn’t be worth grazing much on, other than pronghorn.  They have provided funds to states that allow for irrigation projects, particularly in the southwest, and funded the Hoover Dam, which provides electricity to the area that you ranch in.  So why is it that you’re pleased as punch to take advantage of these amenities to run your business, but will not pay for the 158,000 acres of federal land that you have decided to graze your cattle on.

This, in addition to the acreage that you actually own.

And while you might see it as a victory that the BLM has stopped operations to round up your trespass cattle, understand that they only did it because unlike you, they value human life more than wealth, more than land, more than grass, more than cows.  If this is a just world, the government will be back to stop you from stealing from the federally held lands, from other ranchers who abide by the law and pay for their acreage, and from all of the rest of us.

Your threats of violence are harrowing and sad.  Your rallying of other gun-toting reactionaries to your cause is terrifying.  This is the sort of thing that ends up a sad chapter in history books in a few years… a selfish man who wanted to get away with having something and not paying for it, who got a lot of people killed.

And while the right wing media howls about the “First Amendment Zone” that protesters have been restricted to in this case, they are remarkably silent when it happens to anyone other than a rural states-rights hardliner.  And believe me, First Amendment Zones or Free Speech Zones are pretty standard practice at any demonstration at which there is a risk of violence.  You know they assume there’s a risk of violence because of you and your family making repeated violent threats, right?

And I want you to consider that the moment that you shoot at and kill or even injure a federal agent, your life is essentially forfeit.  They will use whatever means they have to end the standoff; they will shoot you.  They will shoot your family.  And they will burn the house if they have to.

I’m not making a judgement on this fact.  I’m simply stating that this is the world that we now live in.  We have seen it play out in different circumstances in different locations around the country.

You are free to do what you like, Mr. Bundy.  You are just not free to do it on my land.

You simply cannot take advantage of the conveniences offered by our system and then refuse to pay in, Mr. Bundy.  Your theft will catch up with you eventually.

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Author: adrennan

An artist and writer in Bellingham, Washington.

5 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Cliven Bundy.”

  1. So very well said! There are thousands of us that have ranched in Nevada for multiple generations and find this entire incident sad and disturbing. We walk a thin line with grazing rights, and many of us worry that the BLM may discontinue the practice in Nevada rural areas thanks to Mr. Bundy’s incredible greed. Cliven Bundy is nothing but a liar, thief and a bully.
    One thing missing in the article was Mr. Bundy preached this incident would be a “Peaceful Protest” – he lied!
    Cliven Bundy brought in every over-zealous “left wing-nut” he could find. He scared the peaceful townspeople of Bunkerville and Mesquite with his gun toting, screaming lunatics. Then Bundy was prepared to “march them to slaughter” by whipping the zealots into a frenzy and forcing the Feds to regard human life as more precious than a bunch of scrub cattle. Please note that Mr. Bundy was never at the lead of any of these physical protests, he found others that were crazier then himself, and he was willing to let them die for his lousy cows!
    Shame on you Cliven Bundy!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! It sounds like you’re from Nevada, and it’s so good to hear from a local… most of what we hear out of state comes from what I hope is a very vocal minority. It’s hard for me to understand what liberty there is to defend… the liberty of a crooked man to illegally externalize the cost of grazing his cattle to the state of Nevada, the federal government, and to gain an unfair advantage over thousands of other hardworking, law abiding ranchers? The right to damage environmentally sensitive desert, local infrastructure, and private property?

      What makes me saddest is that I don’t think this will end without bloodshed.

  2. They were clearly pushing him off this land and demanding payment for improvements that you are not sure that they were making. I understand this man may be legally wrong but the kings court is likely to rule in favor of the kings men. I also believe he is correct in the fact that Nevada should be the owner of this land. America was founded by Rebels. you can’t just point and say, “you’re not following the rules”. The American people need to have more say than the federal government. When Bill and his neighbors start getting pushed off the land it shouldn’t be allowed then either. They might raise prices, cut his herd and stop improving land and leaving that cost to him. Then when he starts complaining he won’t make the news. Why? Because he’ll quietly give in to the ‘law.’ I’m sorry… It’s not a black and white issue.
    And bloodshed has a history of changing our country.

    1. It’s not his land! He never paid for it, and the BLM documented a list of complaints from nearby residents about damage done by the cattle. The land has to be maintained. I see no reason why the federal government shouldn’t own land in Nevada, just like they do here, and in Alaska, and all throughout this great nation. That land is for ALL of us… not just for Cliven Bundy. I’m all about rebellion, but this isn’t about some cause… This is about an old man trying to graze his livestock for free.

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