Sen. Tim Johnson says there’s nothing patriotic in the actions of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy in his long-standing battle with federal officials over federal grazing fees.
Nor is Bundy representative of the ranching community on this issue, Johnson says.
“The overwhelming majority of ranchers utilizing public lands pay their grazing fees and operate responsibly as good stewards of the land. That’s far from the case with Cliven Bundy in Nevada,” the Democratic senator said today in a comment provided by his staff. “He has refused to pay legally obligated grazing fees for more than 20 years, and the courts have long since settled the question of whether his cattle should be on these public lands. It’s not patriotic to refuse to follow the law. Encouraging an armed standoff with authorities is irresponsible and downright dangerous.”
After losing a string of federal court decision on his dispute over grazing, Bundy coordinated a protest that involved some armed militia members to resist the court-ordered removal of hundreds of his cattle from federal land. Fearing a violent confrontation, federal officials eventually backed off on the removal. A few cattle, a couple of which had Bundy’s brands, died during the attempted roundup.
Johnson’s staff gave his response to a Politics in KELOLAND request for comments that was sent this morning by email to media-contact people for all three members of the South Dakota congressional delegation. The questions posed were:
1) What does (the delegation member) think of the Cliven Bundy situation in Nevada?
2) Is Bundy a patriot, as his supporters suggest, or a domestic terrorist, as Harry Reid says?
3) Should he have to get his cattle off of BLM land?
4) And what does (the delegation member) think of Bundy’s contention that state and local sovereignty trumps federal authority?
If South Dakota ranchers using BLM leases are any indication, Johnson is right that most ranchers pay their lease fees without conflict or challenge. The Bureal of Land Management, which is the agency in the center of the dispute with Bundy, administers out of its Belle Fourche field office 504 grazing allotments in South Dakota totaling 270,093 acres, with an allocation of 73,421 animal unit months (AUMs), which is one cow and one calf grazing for one month. None of the permitees is delinquent in payment currently and it’s rare, according to BLM officials, for anyone in South Dakota or North Dakota to be delinquent.
The Belle Fourche office also handles BLM leases in North Dakota, where 79 allotments covering 51,874 acres and 9,285 AUMs are also managed.
But back to the questions:
Although the questions didn’t include one seeking a reaction to the recent controversial statements by Cliven Bundy about black citizens and slavery, Thune Press Secretary Rachel Millard referred to that issue in her brief comment on behalf of Republican senator:
“The Senator finds his (Bundy’s) recent remarks on slavery beyond offensive,” Millard said. “But he also finds it inexcusable that the BLM has allowed this case to continue for several years without resolution.”
Noem didn’t respond last week. She was traveling out of country on a congressional trip. And her staff this week responded for her:
“Neither Mr. Bundy’s offensive remarks on slavery nor his interactions with the federal government represent South Dakota values,” said Noem Communications Director Brittany Comins. “Rep. Noem’s attention remains solely focused on the needs of South Dakota ranchers, including most imminently the efficient implementation of the livestock disaster assistance program included in the 2014 Farm Bill.”
Johnson also said in his comment that BLM and other public grazing lands play an important role in U.S. agriculture.
“Grazing on public lands is vital to many ranching operations throughout the western United States. More than 20,000 livestock operators have permits to graze cattle on public lands managed by the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management, including many in South Dakota,” he said. “These lands are managed for the benefit of all of the American people, and I strongly believe that grazing has an important role in the multiple use management of our public lands.”