Apr 9 2014, 9:54pm CDT | by Forbes
I’m fascinated this week by this story out of Nevada, in which the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is employing 200 heavily armed personnel, including armored snipers, in order to force a rancher off of land on which his family has held grazing rights for more than a century. While the story is not directly related to the oil and gas industry, it does demonstrate the lengths to which the federal government will go to protect obscure animals it has listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Simply put, it occurs to me that any federal policy that ends up with armored snipers pointing rifles at an unarmed rancher, his wife, and his workers might just be a policy that needs to be reconsidered.
The dispute in question goes back to 1993, when the BLM cut the grazing rights of the rancher in question, Mr. Cliven Bundy, from a herd of thousands of head of cattle to one of no more than 150 head in order to “protect” a species of desert tortoise that inhabits the same area of the state. Most mainstream news media reports on this story naturally did not inform their readers of this fact, or of the fact that this tiny herd allotment would be spread over the 158,000 acres of land to which Bundy held the grazing rights.
When one understands these key facts, one realizes that such a tiny herd of cattle on such an enormous space would have no impact at all on the desert tortoise or any other plant or animal that lives there, and that no rancher could possibly make any sort of a living running such a tiny herd. Thus, the obvious conclusion is that BLM rendered its absurd decision with the clear expectation of running the Bundys off the land entirely. And that is a very reasonable conclusion to reach. After all, Mr. Bundy is in fact the “last man standing” here – the BLM strategy has worked so well that every other rancher with grazing rights in the region has given up and abandoned what had been their family’s way of life, in many cases, for generations.
To be fair to the regulators, Mr. Bundy’s reaction to the 1993 heavy-handed action by the BLM is not entirely defensible either. He simply quit paying his grazing fees at that time, and has refused to pay them since. After piling up for 20 years, he admits to owing the government over $300,000, while the government claims the delinquent fees in fact exceed $1 million. ( A good guess is that Bundy is not including penalties and interest in his calculation, and those things have a way of adding up over a couple of decades.) He has also refused to reduce the size of his herd in compliance with the 1993 guidance, and has continued to occupy the land in defiance of the law. While one can certainly understand his anger and frustration at his situation, the actions he has taken are really not acceptable in a civil society.
Nor should it be acceptable to anyone in a civil society for the federal government to willfully and knowingly take actions that destroy American families and their ways of life. And it’s not just grazers in Nevada who are under assault thanks to enforcement decisions taken by regulators under the ESA, this sort of thing is taking place all over the country. The entire timber industry of Oregon was destroyed in the late 1980s in order to “protect” a sub-species of spotted owl. During the Carter Administration in the late 1970s, the Tennessee Valley Authority was forced to modify or abandon billions of dollars in projects to “protect” the snail darter. As we pointed out a few weeks ago, desperate farmers in Southern California last year had to sit by and watch their crops wither as the feds forced the state to just release more than 95,000 acre feet of fresh water and let it flow to the Pacific Ocean in order to “protect” a sub-species of smelt.
If you’re wondering why I keep putting the word “protect” in quotes, it’s because the dirty secret of the ESA is that its efforts to “protect” plants and animals have over the years resulted in a not-too-admirable success rate of a little over 1 percent. That’s not a typo.
“It’s high time for the BLM to do its job and give the [endangered desert] tortoises and the Gold Butte area the protection they need and are legally entitled to,” senior Center for Biological Diversity scientist Rob Mrowka told the Mesquite Local News. “As the tortoises emerge from their winter sleep, they are finding their much-needed food consumed by cattle.”
Reportedly, the Bundy herd at last count stood at a little over 1,000 head of cattle. That number of cattle spread out over such a vast amount of land is not crowding turtles or any other animal out of their own food source. In fact, it’s much more likely that the fertilizing effect that cattle provide to the land as they graze actually increases the flora available to wildlife in the area.
But groups like the Center for Biological Diversity don’t really deal in facts. As the group’s own executive director, Kieran Suckling, admitted in an interview a few years ago, they’re running a political campaign, and not really all that interested in pesky things like sound resource management, which is ostensibly the real job of the BLM:
“ I think the professionalization of the environmental movement has injured it greatly. These kids get degrees in environmental conservation and wildlife management and come looking for jobs in the environmental movement. They’ve bought into resource management values and multiple use by the time they graduate. I’m more interested in hiring philosophers, linguists and poets. The core talent of a successful environmental activist is not science and law. It’s campaigning instinct. That’s not only not taught in the universities, it’s discouraged.”
However else one tries to spin this current situation as part of a political campaign, the inescapable fact is that a heavy-handed bureaucratic action taken in 1993, clearly designed to put a family out of a business it had been in for more than 100 years, has resulted 21 years later in a situation in which heavily armed men are pointing rifles at that family and its workers.
All of this is happening in the United States of America. And the Center for Biological Diversity’s ”philosopers, linguists and poets” are the cheerleaders on the sidelines.
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