It’s $1.35 per month, per cow. That’s the BLM grazing fee Cliven Bundy refuses to pay. BLM has issued 18,000 permits at this fee.
Bundy’s fellow ranchers pay this fee happily, as well they should. Grazing fees are massively subsidized. The Government Accountability Office reports that in a typical year, ranchers paid $21 million on its grazing lands. The average grazing fee on private land in the West is $16.80 per month according to the Congressional Research Service. Grazing permits are costly food stamps for cattle.
The government subsidy is available only to a preferred group. Eligibility for grazing permits is restricted to those who own private ranch land. The carrying capacity of western ranchers is greatly leveraged by unreasonably cheap federal grazing permits.
The facts refute Bundy’s self-reliant cowboy image, so he fabricates his own.
He joins a small, noisy group of welfare cowboys who have persuaded themselves that when BLM charges them $1.35 for something worth more than 12 times that amount, the federal government is trampling on their "rights." They also think anything BLM does to protect public lands violates their self-proclaimed "rights."
To avoid the troubling question of why he should use public lands for nothing, Mr. Bundy spins the story that the federal government doesn’t own the public lands.
In November 1998, Bundy made this argument in the U.S. District Court for Nevada. The court decisively rejected this same argument, ruling, "...the public lands in Nevada are the property of the United States because the United States has held title to those public lands since 1848, when Mexico ceded the land to the United States." Bundy now chants these same rejected arguments on Fox News and right-wing blogs.
The court also rejected Bundy’s claim that Nevada law somehow trumps federal law, thus giving him free grazing rights. The court ordered Bundy to remove any non-permitted cattle from BLM land by the end of November 1989. Perhaps suspecting Bundy would ignore his order, the judge specified that he would face fines of $200 per day for each unpermitted cow he refused to remove.
Bundy doesn’t owe a million dollars for grass; he owes that for intentionally refusing to obey a federal judge’s order for more than 20 years. He has talked himself into believing that federal law, including a federal judge’s orders, doesn’t apply to him. He has foolishly encumbered whatever ranching inheritance he might once have been able to pass on to his children.
Bundy not only refused to obey the court’s 1998 order, he expanded his illegal grazing onto new allotments of BLM land. In 2013, the court gave Bundy 45 days to remove his cattle and expressly ordered that the United States is entitled to impound any cattle Bundy fails to remove.
Bundy and his supporters instigated an armed confrontation rather than complying with any of the court’s orders.
Bundy is not a noble hero. He is a freeloader and a self-righteous fool. By his inflated sense of entitlement, he is free to bring a drilling rig onto the lawn of any LDS ward house, drill for oil, and sell any oil he finds. If a court ordered him to remove the drilling rig, he thinks he would be entitled to ignore the order. If law officers tried to evict him, he thinks he would be free to trigger an armed confrontation.
Those who call Bundy’s unlawful actions patriotic should be ashamed.
Chris Wangsgard is a Utah attorney with more than 40 years of litigation experience.
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