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Tortoises first: Bundy Ranch just a part of the Western lands in BLM crosshairs

Written By | Apr 21, 2014

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., — April 21, 2014. The standoff at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada was just the tip of the iceberg—and it is a very large iceberg indeed. All over the West, the federal government is planning to take over millions of acres of land—and kick the humans off.

A case in New Mexico going on this month but attracting almost no attention, pits rancher Kit Laney against the U.S. Forest Service. The service claims Laney’s Diamond Bar Ranch in southwest New Mexico is federal land; Laney can show that his rights go back to 1883—before there was a State of New Mexico and before there was a Forest Service (1905).

Laney’s ancestors acquired the water rights and the attendant grazing rights on the land now claimed by the federal government. His full story is chronicled at WND.

READ ALSO: The Desert Tortoise, Harry Reid: Why the BLM wants Cliven Bundy’s Ranch

A 1997 federal court ruling sides with the Forest Service. In cases like this, it’s a bit like the fox guarding the henhouse. Environmental groups or federal agencies bring a case to federal court and—surprise!—the federal court sides with the federal government and orders it—in this case the U.S. Forest Service, in the Bundy case, the Bureau of Land Management—to do exactly what it wanted to do all along.

Cliven Bundy’s case is similar. His family has been grazing cattle on the land for more than 120 years. Yet in 1993, the Bureau of Land Management decreed that the land on which Bundy and his neighbors grazed their cattle was actually the habitat of the desert tortoise.

Bundy’s cattle herd size was reduced from 900 to 150 head of cattle. Laney’s had been reduced from 1188 to 300. These are two ranchers, to be sure, but others have been driven off their ranches entirely. Is it any wonder that the price of beef is today at an all-time high?

Who is behind this?

In the 1990s, Bruce Babbitt, formerly head of the League of Conservation Voters, was Interior Secretary under Clinton. George Frampton, formerly head of the Wilderness Society, became chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Just this month, former Harry Reid staffer Neil Kornze, 35, was confirmed as director of the BLM. He had been the acting director for the previous year.

Said Reid of the appointment, “Neil really understands the role of public lands in rural America, and natural resources across the West. His expertise is going to be invaluable to the Bureau of Land Management.”

READ ALSO: The Government v Bundy: Establishing the Bureau of Constitutional Erosion

We’re already seeing the effects of his expertise. The BLM seized and killed Bundy’s cattle, destroyed his water-system improvements and in the process also crushed multiple tortoise burrows with their heavy equipment. (Ironically, the Forest Service forbade the use of mechanized equipment on Laney’s land.)

What’s the point?

The turtles and the cattle coexist on the land in a mutually beneficial way, so the tortoise argument is a red herring. Some reports credit corruption on the part of Reid and his son who have in interest in building solar arrays on the land with a Chinese partner. There appears not to be an active contract at this point, but all the pieces are in place to make it happen. For an account of the mafia-like corruption of the Reid family, simply read Chapter 9 of Peter Schweizer’s book Extortion.

Yet the issue is much larger than the Reid family business in Nevada. As early as 2010, then-Senator Jim DeMint raised the alarm about a planned, 10 million acre Western land grab by the Obama administration. This was during the infamous Pelosi-Reid 111th Congress when radical Democrats ran the government unchecked.

According to the memo, around 380,000 acres of BLM and private land in Colorado would be part of the grab, subject to a “conservation designation” under the National Monument portion of the 1906 Antiquities Act. The Vermillion Basin, northwest of Craig, and the Alpine Triangle near Ouray were listed in the memo. This designation would close the areas off to multi-use activities including, mining, hunting, grazing, oil and gas development and other recreational activities.

Colorado Representatives Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman introduced legislation to prevent the federal government from seizing these lands; predictably, the bill died in committee.

The point is not just cattle nor desert tortoises: the point is to end human use of vast portions of Western lands. Conservation in the traditional sense is not enough for the advocates of “biocentrism”; for these eco-extremists, humans and property rights stand in second place behind animal rights.

Reid said this week that it isn’t over. He called those wanting to save their property rights and livelihood “domestic terrorists.”

READ ALSO: KERNS: The Bundy Ranch beef is not over cattle, but Government control

The Wildlands Project envisions at least half of the land area of North America, restored to “core wilderness areas,” off-limits to humans. Now called the Western Wildway Network, activists envision an unbroken stretch of land from Mexico to Canada that they “are urgently working to connect.”

Ranchers like Bundy, Laney, their neighbors, their cattle and their property rights are all expendable. And if the rest of America has to pay more for beef or forgo it altogether, so be it.


Al Maurer

Al Maurer is a political scientist and founder of The Voice of Liberty. He writes on topics of limited government and individual rights.