US feds release rancher's cows after protests over land rights
By Martin Griffith, AP
April 14, 2014, 12:03 am TWN
U.S. authorities released 400 or so head of cattle rounded up on public land from a rancher who refused to recognize their authority, in a dispute that drew hundreds of protesters to his defense and fueled a debate over state and federal land rights.
Some of the protesters, including militia members, were armed with handguns and rifles at corrals in southern Nevada on Saturday and at an earlier nearby rally to demand the animals' return to rancher Cliven Bundy.
The Bureau of Land Management issued a brief statement Saturday afternoon saying the cattle were released “due to escalating tensions.” The release came only hours after the agency's chief, Neil Kornze, announced an abrupt halt to the weeklong roundup because of safety concerns.
Nevada, where federal agencies manage or control more than 80 percent of the land, has deep roots in the battle over state and federal land rights. The fight has raged since the 1980s when the “Sagebrush Rebellion” challenged federal ownership of Nevada rangeland ranchers said was rightfully theirs.
The bureau revoked Bundy's grazing rights after he stopped paying grazing fees and disregarded federal court orders to remove his animals.
Bundy, 67, doesn't recognize federal authority on land he insists belongs to Nevada. His Mormon family has operated a ranch since the 1870s near the small town of Bunkerville.
The dispute that ultimately triggered the roundup dates to 1993, when the bureau cited concern for the federally protected tortoise in the region.
Bundy repeatedly promised to “do whatever it takes” to protect his property and after a string of raucous confrontations between his family members and supporters and federal agents during the weeklong operation.
Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a statement praising the agency for its willingness to listen to the state's concerns. He earlier criticized the agency for creating “an atmosphere of intimidation” and trying to confine protesters to a fenced-in area well away from the sprawling roundup area.