Some anniversaries are worth celebrating. Cliven Bundy’s militarized stand against his own government isn’t one of them.
But there he was recently with many of his supporters, eating barbecue at a “liberty celebration” to mark one year since they got federal officials to back down with a show of force. He still owes more than $1 million in grazing fees, but the Bureau of Land Management no longer has much to say about that.
"BLM no longer exists in this section of Nevada," Robert Crooks, founder of the Mountain Minutemen, told an NPR reporter.
That means a section of Southern Nevada has a lot in common with remote parts of Pakistan and decaying sections of Detroit — places where traditional governments and police departments fear to tread. The NPR report featured a photo of a homemade sign near the Bundy ranch that said, “’Welcome and enjoy a free land’ by the people.”
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Which probably wouldn’t have much meaning if the people’s government of Nevada took ownership of federal land in the area and tried to charge him grazing fees.
If you think Utah’s efforts to gain control of the 66 percent of the state owned by Washington is a kooky idea dreamed up by peculiar conservatives in a peculiar state, you haven’t been paying attention. The Spectrum in St. George reports that 11 Western states now are considering various federal lands bills. It’s a particularly hot topic in Nevada, where the feds own more than 80 percent of the state — so hot that Bundy himself led a delegation to Carson City to lobby for a bill that seeks to give Nevada control over all federal land and water rights.
If you know anything about message bills, you understand how futile this is. Even if the bill passes, it won’t change anything. Republicans may control Congress, but not many of them east of Colorado care for the idea of ceding control of Western lands. They’re probably especially not fond of the idea if it means empowering someone who looks like a lawless vigilante on horseback thumbing his nose at his own government.
All of which could be bad news for Utah. We’ve got our own “take back the land” movement here, but cooler heads are hard at work getting all sides together on compromises that might actually lead to a solution.
Rep. Rob Bishop, who just took over as chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, has eight Utah counties involved in a process optimistically called the “grand bargain.” Everyone from environmentalists to energy interests to all-terrain-vehicle enthusiasts are involved.
Having met with some of these interests in recent months, I know how delicate of a balance this is. But having followed this issue closely since the days in the 1980s when all sides were digging foxholes and lobbing verbal grenades, I also can appreciate how this is a better way.
A recent Wall Street Journal story about this effort marveled at how the same San Juan County Commissioner who led a posse of ATV riders on a protest into some sensitive land last year is now talking about how compromises are necessary.
But hey, Utah is getting good at compromising and finding solutions. If we can thread the needle on gay and lesbian rights and religious freedom, we can figure out how to manage land, right?
And yet, Bishop’s compromises, soon to be put into a bill, must be approved by Congress.
Bishop recently told the Deseret News he plans to hold hearings to educate his eastern colleagues about land issues in the West. But they will no doubt balance what they hear there against what they may see from people like Cliven Bundy.
The folks who oppose any state takeover of federal lands are wrong about one thing. States don’t want control of federal land just to let energy companies drill away.
They would have to balance the needs of recreationists, environmentalists, ranchers and other interests just as the federal government does.
But Bundy is wrong about a lot of things, such as his responsibility to obey the law and how to go about solving problems.