LAS VEGAS — The son of a rural Nevada cattle rancher was freed from federal custody Monday, a day after Bureau of Land Management police arrested him amid a long-running family dispute with the government over cattle grazing in remote rangeland northeast of Las Vegas.
Dave Bundy, 37, was taken into custody over the weekend after the agency closed the federally controlled land and started rounding up the cows his father says are entitled to graze there. The BLM said the animals are trespassing.
The dispute is the latest in a battle that has raged for years about federal management of resources and wilderness throughout the West. In the 1970s and ‘80s, the Sagebrush Rebellion pitted Nevada ranchers against the government over land ownership rights. Roundups of wild horses have drawn much of the attention in recent years.
Dave Bundy was issued a court summons on criminal charges that he refused to disperse and resisted officers, said Natalie Collins, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Las Vegas. His court date wasn’t immediately announced.
His mother, Carol Bundy, said her son was beaten by agents after his arrest Sunday on State Route 170 between Mesquite and Bunkerville. The BLM and National Park Service didn’t respond to questions about the beating allegation.
Carol Bundy and Park Service spokeswoman Christie Vanover said about 100 protesters rallied Monday against the BLM roundup of cattle that Bundy’s father, Cliven Bundy, says belong to him. The elder Bundy estimates he owns about 500 animals.
“We’re under martial law,” Carol Bundy declared, adding that the family intended “to stand until the cows come home.”
BLM spokeswoman Kirsten Cannon said agents on Saturday and Sunday rounded up 134 of an estimated 900 trespassing cattle in a vast 1,200-square-mile area of rangeland northeast of Las Vegas and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Cannon said the roundup was a last resort and blamed Cliven Bundy for “inflammatory statements,” including vows to fight and characterizations of the cow removal as a range war.
“Mr. Bundy has been in trespass on public lands for more than 20 years,” the BLM official said.
She added that he owes the federal government some $1.1 million in unpaid grazing fees.
Cannon and Vanover declined to say what would become of the animals.
The rangeland, a scenic but harsh area stretching east of the Virgin River and west of the Arizona state line, is about half the size of the state of Delaware. It is dotted with mesquite, yucca, dry brown cheatgrass and stunning rock formations and is controlled by the BLM and Park Service.
The bureau last week announced the area would be closed through May 12 while contractors conduct the roundup using helicopters, vehicles and temporary pens. Cannon said the agency paid the contractors $966,000.
Cliven Bundy, a descendant of Mormons who settled in Bunkerville more than 140 years ago, claims an inherent right to graze the area and casts the conflict as a states’ rights issue. He said he doesn’t recognize federal authority on land that he insists belongs to Nevada.
His dispute with the government dates to 1993, when land managers cited concern for the federally protected desert tortoise and capped Bundy’s herd at 150 animals on his 158,666-acre Bunkerville allotment of rangeland.
Bundy protested by withholding his monthly grazing fees and kept using the range. The BLM canceled his grazing permit in 1994. A federal court in 1998 ordered him to remove the animals, and federal authorities in 1999 officially closed the Bunkerville allotment to cattle.
Conservationists say the cows eat scarce forage needed by wildlife including the tortoise and horses.
Federal officials tried to round up Bundy’s livestock two years ago, but he refused to budge.
Since then, he has lost two federal court rulings — and a judge last October prohibited him from physically interfering with any seizure or roundup operation.
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