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Bundy and Attacks on our Public Lands


Paul Vang (Writing Outdoors) May 1, 2014

It’s too bad H. L. Mencken isn’t around anymore. A columnist for the Baltimore Sun, he covered the political scene the first half of the 20th Century, gaining fame for political commentary.

Mencken savored political theater. His coverage of the Snopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee was a high-water mark for his blistering news coverage. He came up with the label of “monkey trial,” for the trial, and coined the term “Bible belt” describing the rural south. In assessing the last days of William Jennings Bryan’s career he wrote, “It is a tragedy indeed to begin life as a hero and end it as a buffoon.”

I wonder what Mencken might write about the latest act of political theater, about “booboisie” gone wild, the spectacle of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who parlayed 20 years of non-payment of grazing fees into becoming the darling of Fox News and a hero to gun-totin,’ guvmint-hatin’ whackos who descended on the scene with hopes of instigating an all-out war with the federal government.

In case you’ve somehow missed it, maybe while burning midnight oil doing taxes, in 1993 Bundy took umbrage with a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) action to protect an endangered species, the desert tortoise. So, Bundy quit paying grazing fees. He didn’t quit running cows on public land, he just quit paying the rent he owes you and me.

BLM couldn’t just wink at that and started assessing fees and penalties (over $1.2 million) and hauled him into court. In 1998, a federal judge permanently barred Bundy from grazing cattle on protected federal land.

Finally, this spring, and 16 years following the judge’s ruling we can’t accuse BLM of rashly rushing into this, they started rounding up Cliven’s cows and running them off the public pasture.

This is when Bundy re-invented himself as a hero, making up all sorts of stories of not recognizing the federal government (not just jurisdiction but the government itself) and asserting some sort of rights going back to the 1880s when his forebears started running cows on the Nevada rangeland. He conveniently ignores Nevada’s 1864 constitution that specifically recognizes the primacy of federal ownership of public lands. Incidentally, a Las Vegas TV station reported that court records indicate that the Bundy family didn’t use the land in question until 1954.

When militia wannabees aimed sniper rifles at government cowboys, BLM backed off from the confrontation and let the cows out of the corrals. Observers suspect that when things quiet down BLM will again start collecting cows, and finish the job.

In the neighboring state of Utah, another meeting took place.  Billed as the “Legislative Summit on the Transfer for Public Lands,” the meeting, as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, featured Utah legislator Ken Ivory, head of an organization called American Lands Council and a Montana legislator, Jennifer Fielder (R-Thompson Falls). Ivory was in the news back in December, when he agitated for state takeover of Montana federal lands. Previously, he engineered a bill in the Utah legislature demanding transfer of federal lands to the State of Utah.

While the “Summit” was organized before the Nevada circus, Ivory used Nevada as a reason for transfer. “It’s simply time. The urgency is now.”

Two weeks ago, Montana legislator Matt Rosendale (R-Glendive) and a candidate for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Steve Daines, issued a call for turning over Montana’s federal public lands to the State of Montana. None of the other four dwarfs contending for the Republican nomination joined him, though they almost stumbled over themselves trying to not say anything quotable.

So, there in a nutshell is the line of dots, running from Cliven Bundy in Nevada, to Ken Ivory in Utah, to politicians in Montana, all wanting to steal our pubic lands.

As to what H. L. Mencken might say about Bundy, Nevada rancher, liar and thief, and those politicians attacking our public lands, let’s try this for size, “A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.”

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