I am a unique item in my work place. Silicon Valley does not have a lot folks who show up to work in western boots, wranglers, button down (or snap down) long sleeve shirts and a huge cowboy hat. Everyone at work knows that I would much rather talk about pasture management, heritage breeds and cattle movement techniques than technology. So, I am suddenly a popular guy with the Bundy Ranch issue in the news.
The truth of the matter is that I am not overly qualified to evaluate the Bundy Cattle affair. I am not nor have I ever been a rancher. I have had a life long fascination with cattle, a life long desire to be a cowboy. Not a rancher. Being rancher carries business responsibilities, such as managing grazing rights, water rights and managing the associated permits that I never really wanted any part of. My dream, my focus has always been to own a saddle and a rope so that I could ride remuda horses and tend someone else’s cattle. I would like the opportunity to become good at it.
So, the issues that Cliven Bundy is dealing with are ancillary to my own primary interests. More importantly, my life choices led me to my current day job where I work on computer software. Understanding cattle and cowboy ways has for most of my life been relegated to a pastime, a hobby, a burning passion never satisfied. So, it is from that prespective that I watch with interest the happenings in Gold Butte, Nevada.
The simple version that I hear and read often is Mr. Bundy has refused for twenty years to pay his grazing fees. He is illegally using Federal land. Federal court has found him in violation twice. It is a simple matter and the BLM is doing what it has to to bring a criminal into compliance with the law. This is clean and neat. Easy to digest.
However, to me it does not make sense. Grazing rights is an integral part of ranching. Mr. Bundy is 68 years old and has been a rancher all his life, as was his father before him. Why would he suddenly decide to stop paying his grazing fees after 30 years of paying them? Even to the point of defying a Federal Court order. Twice. And how is it that even after Mr. Bundy stopped paying grazing fees and fought with the Federal government for twenty years, he is still respected by fellow ranchers who are still paying their grazing fees? And why after twenty years of haggling relatively peacefully did BLM suddenly bring in the big guns, literally.
This Las Vegas Sun article is the only source I found that attempted to provide some detailed background on this issue. According to this article, “environmentalists threatened to sue the agency to protect the endangered desert tortoise that lives on the land where Bundy’s cattle grazed. The BLM said Bundy’s cattle trampled the tortoise’s habitat.” If this is true, there is another player on the field. Environmentalists using the Federal government to pursue their agenda. This article further documents environmentalist efforts to force government action against Mr. Bundy.
Already the clean and neat explanation is not quite as clean and neat. The actions of the BLM were brought about by the actions of others. So what then of Mr. Bundy’s actions. A comment left on the Las Vegas Sun article provides some insight from the rancher perspective. According to oneladywriter, there use to be some 50 ranches in the area where Mr. Bundy is. There are now 3 left. So, maybe this is a group of people who fear losing their livelihood and their way of life. And while I have not be able to verify the information provided by oneladywriter it does make a lot more sense given what I know about ranch ownership and the people who choose to live that life.
Life is seldom simple. Life’s situations more often than not have complicated and interwoven stories that require time and patience to fully understand. You may believe that the desert tortoise is worth saving, even at the cost of several families’ livelihoods and an historic way of life. Or you may believe that Mr. Bundy is conducting an act of civil disobedience in defense of his right to pursue livelihood of his family, his tradition. Whichever you happen to believe, we should all at least have the integrity to understand both sides of the issue.
The Bundy Ranch issue is not simple. There are two sides to it. Both sides deserve a hearing.