Secretary Zinke must enforce the law, confiscate Bundy’s illegal cows

Will the Interior Department be a “good neighbor” or Cliven’s doormat?

Cliven Bundy speaking at a forum hosted by the American Academy for Constitutional Education | Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

With news that Cliven Bundy and his two sons, Ammon and Ryan, are getting off scot-free for their leading role in a dangerous 2014 armed standoff against public land managers in Nevada, it is now up to Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Interior Department to ensure lawbreakers and tax cheats — no matter their political leanings — are held accountable.

The conspiracy and assault trial against the scofflaw ranchers was dismissed this week after the prosecution bungled the case so badly that the judge said she had no choice but to set the the militants free. Now Cliven, Ammon, and Ryan are heading home on a technicality and fully intend to continue illegally grazing their cows on U.S. public lands without paying American taxpayers for the right to do so.

The deadbeat ranching family, who claim the American public doesn’t actually own our public lands, and doesn’t even recognize the federal government, has chosen not to pay a nominal grazing fee for the right to run cattle on U.S. public lands for decades. They currently owe U.S. taxpayers over $1.3 million in back fees and fines, a number which increases by the year.

The Bundy’s illegally graze cattle on lands protected as Gold Butte National Monument | Photo credit: BLM

The Interior Department now has a responsibility to shut down the Bundy’s grazing operation on public lands. They can graze on their private property, but they’ll need to pay up to run cows on public lands. No business in the country would be allowed to operate with over a million dollars in back taxes — the Bundy’s ranching business should be no different.

Early indications from the Interior Department, however, are that Secretary Zinke intends to let lawbreaking continue unmitigated. His press secretary told reporters on Monday, “we are confident that a new leaf has turned over and that all parties will go forward in a neighborly manner.” By letting the deadbeat ranchers continue flaunting the law and ripping off taxpayers, it seems the secretary is less a good neighbor and more the Bundys’ doormat.

The secretary might be a bit smitten over Cliven Bundy and his boys — like Zinke, they pretend to be everyman cowboys, champions for ranchers across the West — but they’re a terrible reflection of real Western ranchers. With almost zero exceptions, ranchers who graze theirs cows on public lands are law-abiding citizens working hand-in-glove with U.S. public lands managers. In 2016, of the 16,000 ranchers who run livestock on public lands, only 285 had bills that were past due. That’s a delinquency rate of less than two percent. Fewer than one percent of public lands ranchers had bills that were 60 days past due.

If Secretary Zinke is committed to being a good neighbor, he should hold all ranchers to the same standard. The Bundy family shouldn’t get special treatment when thousands of others are following the law. A good start would be confiscating and selling off the Bundy cattle to pay down their bill to taxpayers.