Defiant Tortoises: “We Don’t Recognize Ranchers’ Authority”

Desert Tortoise

Mad as heck: "Our family has been homesteading this land for several millenia." /Wikimedia Commons

A small crowd blocks the highway in protest of a BLM roundup of animals on public land. A scuffle ensues, civilians are tased and pushed to the ground, but finally, the government officials are driven away. That’ll show ‘em! How dare they round up… wait… did they say cattle?

Let me make sure I understand this.

Ranchers, who graze millions of cattle on public lands at low cost, have been pushing the BLM to remove wild horses and burros from our public land for decades. At our own expense. Land that in 1971, was designated as a “sanctuary” for these animals. But the BLM exerted their authority on behalf of the ranchers, even amid massive outcry from the public.

These same ranchers have also benefitted from the USDA’s predator control programs on public land. Again at great expense to the taxpayers. These predators are critical to the balance of the ecosystem, keeping prey animal populations healthy and in check. But the USDA exerted their authority to benefit the ranchers.

And it seems that whatever is going on with the range land, already-endangered desert tortoises are disappearing at an alarming rate.  We can probably rule out wild horses or coyotes as the culprits, since they were removed at the behest of the cattle ranchers. What else except cattle is even left on the range anymore, in any significant number?

Enter rancher Cliven Bundy, the new folk hero, leading the resistance against oppressive big government. Bundy simply doesn’t “recognize” federal authority to remove his cattle from federal land. After all, his family has homesteaded there since the 1800s. I can see how it might be easy to side with this “hero of the little guys” — but reason and fairness simply don’t allow it.

It seems Bundy has forgotten some important history – whose family lived on that land before the government told him that he could use it? Perhaps they never had authority to make it available to him in the first place. I wouldn’t argue with that.

And how long had the tortoises, coyotes, and mustangs lived there? The mustangs were the latecomers of the three, and they were there hundreds of years before ranchers. Let’s go ahead and use Bundy’s argument. Those who were there first should have first priority on the land. I’m ok with that.

Ranchers like Bundy simply aren’t thinking in the long term, not only with respect to federal authority – but also regarding the health of the rangelands. As long as it is illegal to destroy the horses and tortoises, it will be illegal to destroy the water supply and range where they live. With those protections intact, there is at least legal recourse against it. What’s good for the protected species is ultimately good for the ranchers, though it seems a great many of them do not understand this.

By eroding federal protection of endangered and protected species, and denying federal authority to protect the land, ranchers are acting as useful idiots for other destructive industries – such as mining, fracking, and drilling. When the tortoises and mustangs are gone, and the habitat is irreparably damaged from livestock use, we may well see our public lands auctioned off to the highest bidder, for whatever purpose is profitable. And Cliven Bundy’s little armed militia won’t stop it.

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2 Responses to Defiant Tortoises: “We Don’t Recognize Ranchers’ Authority”

  1. InAGaddaDaVegan says:

    There sure is a whole lot of hypocrisy going on with this debacle.

  2. Neal Cassidy says:

    Mr. Bundy proudly proclaims his Mormon heritage in asserting his right to the land in question. But if was a true and faithful Mormon he would be following and adhering to the LDS Articles of Faith. Article of Faith #12 “We believe in being subject to Kings, Presidents, Rulers and Magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law”.

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