Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Using the Bundys for Good: Finding the Silver Lining for Public Lands

Using the Bundys for Good: Finding the Silver Lining for Public Lands

Don’t tell anyone, but the more the Bundys—especially the patriarch, Cliven—talk, the better off are America’s public lands. This is true even if Cliven doesn’t again go off-script and full-on racist...

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Abuse of Process by the Bundys: Trying to Make the Law Fit Their Beliefs

Abuse of Process by the Bundys: Trying to Make the Law Fit Their Beliefs

Fresh on the heels of the dismissal of federal charges, Cliven Bundy has filed a new lawsuit against the federal government. The suit was filed on January 25, 2018, in the eighth judicial district in and for Clark County, Nevada.

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Bungling by the Bundys: A Sordid History of Defiance of the Rule of Law

[Note: The Bundy band represents both an existential threat and an existential opportunity for America’s public lands. This is the second of four Public Lands Blog posts that examine the government mishandling of the Bundys, the Bundys’ legal troubles, the Bundys’ legal troublemaking, and the opportunities for the conservation community to apply political jujitsu on Bundy et al. to advance the conservation of America’s public lands.]

The history of Cliven Bundy’s illegal livestock grazing in what is now Gold Butte National Monument is remarkable both for its duration and for the government foot-dragging and incompetence that has enabled it. The Center for Biological Diversity has published a detailed timeline of Bundy’s livestock lawlessness.

Listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1989, Agassiz’s desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is an herbivore that grazes grasses, wildflowers, and other plants. Any plant material ingested by domestic livestock is not available for native wildlife. Too bad tortoises don’t wear cowboy hats. Source: Wikipedia.

Listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1989, Agassiz’s desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is an herbivore that grazes grasses, wildflowers, and other plants. Any plant material ingested by domestic livestock is not available for native wildlife. Too bad tortoises don’t wear cowboy hats. Source: Wikipedia.

Cliven Bundy owes the federal government more than $1 million in civil penalties related to livestock trespass. (Historically, when Bundy did pay his federal grazing fee, he was an expert on government subsidies, as federal grazing fees cost the federal government at least $6 for every $1 generated in revenues.) Despite two court orders that such grazing is trespass and therefore illegal, Bundy bovines still illegally graze on federal public lands that have long been declared an Area of Critical Environmental Concern and more recently proclaimed as Gold Butte National Monument. What, if anything, will the Interior Department and its Bureau of Land Management do now?

Timeline of Livestock Trespass

The Bundy clan first began grazing their livestock on federal public lands in 1954, were granted their first federal grazing permit in 1973, and paid their paltry federal grazing fee until 1993, when they ended the practice. For 1994, Bundy sent the amount of his federal grazing fee to Clark County, Nevada, because in his worldview, the only true sovereign government is the county, not the state nor the federal government. Clark County refused the payment for lack of jurisdiction.

Two federal judges (in 1998 and 2013, a span of fifteen years) enjoined Bundy from illegally grazing his livestock on federal public lands. The BLM finally attempted to round up the illegal livestock in 2014. A few days after the agency started its roundup effort, heavily armed wackos converged on the Bundy compound and forced BLM officials to release the cattle at gunpoint.

All along, Bundy has been selling cattle from his herd illegally grazing on federal public lands.

Adding Injury to Insult: The Bundy Cattle and Desert Tortoise Conservation

In 1989, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) granted Endangered Species Act protection to the desert tortoise because of widespread destruction of its habitat due to livestock grazing, urbanization, and other factors.

In 1991, the FWS issued a draft Biological Opinion outlining guidelines to minimize grazing conflicts with desert tortoise conservation. At the request of the BLM, implementation was delayed until 1993, coincidentally the year Bundy stopped paying his grazing fee.

In 1998, a new BLM Resource Management Plan for the Las Vegas field office allowed for the closure of grazing allotments—including the infamous Bunkerville allotment, now illegally occupied by Bundy’s livestock—to aid desert tortoise conservation. Clark County, as part of mitigating the multiple habitat destruction sins of the urban blob of Las Vegas, paid several BLM federal grazing permittees to end their grazing. Bundy would have been eligible to receive a golden saddle payment from Clark County for his interest in the federal grazing allotment, but, alas, he had no permit, hence no interest.

The range of Agassiz’s desert tortoise in Nevada is mostly in Clark County. Source: Jennings and Berry, 2015.

The range of Agassiz’s desert tortoise in Nevada is mostly in Clark County. Source: Jennings and Berry, 2015.

What to Do Now about the Trespassing Livestock

The BLM was clearly intimidated in the past by the Bundy bunch, but a BLM spokesperson now assures us that the Interior Department is “confident that a new leaf has turned over and that all parties will go forward in a neighborly manner to rebuild the trust that the Department enjoys with ranchers and local communities.” In their dreams. So far, the Bundy gang has successfully resisted the federal government bureaucracy and beat them in court. I agree with Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, who noted in the wake of the recent mistrial that “the failure of this case will only embolden this violent and racist anti-government movement that wants to take over our public lands.”

Four public lands conservation organizations—the Center for Biological Diversity, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the Western Watersheds Project, and WildEarth Guardians—have called upon Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to do what his five predecessors (three Democrats and two Republicans) have not done: put an end to more than two decades of illegal grazing of federal public lands by Cliven Bundy’s cattle. Will Zinke do his job? In 2014, while running for Congress in Montana and just after the Nevada standoff, Zinke said, “Not only was the government wrong, the rancher was wrong, but he was wronged.”

It may be possible for conservation organizations individually to sue individual BLM employees for, in Suckling’s words, “aiding and abetting the trespass and theft of the public property.” In general, one can sue only an agency for illegality, not its individual employees, but being a government employee is not a shield against fraud.

Though it would not result in the removal of the illegal livestock, a suggestion made by Rocky Barker in the Idaho Statesman amuses me: that the BLM declare the more than $1 million in grazing penalties Bundy has been assessed to be uncollectible and send the IRS a 1099 form reporting the $1 million as income paid to Bundy by the BLM. (Hmmm, would it be a 1099-C Cancellation of Debt or a 1099-G Certain Government Payments? Better to be safe and go with a 1099-MISC Miscellaneous Income.)

In the end, it comes down to the rule of law.

Bungling of the Bundys: A Postmortem Analysis of Government Incompetence

Bungling of the Bundys: A Postmortem Analysis of Government Incompetence

The bands of bozos that joined Cliven Bundy and his four sons in legally questionable escapades on federal public lands have mostly gotten away with it.... And now the conservation community has a chance to make sweet, sweet lemonade out of the Bundy lemons.

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Protecting the Pacific Northwest Offshore Ocean for This and Future Generations

Protecting the Pacific Northwest Offshore Ocean for This and Future Generations

Abstaining from mineral development offshore is the only way to protect the marine environment and the renewable resources that depend upon it.

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US Pacific Northwest Offshore Oil and Gas: A Waste of Time, Ocean and Coast

US Pacific Northwest Offshore Oil and Gas: A Waste of Time, Ocean and Coast

There is an even chance that 0.4 billion barrels of oil and 2.28 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that are technically exploitable might be discovered under the Outer Continental Shelf offshore Oregon and Washington. At 2017 rates of consumption, this amount of oil and gas would fuel the United States for twenty and thirty-one days respectively.

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Defensible Space: The Best and Only Hope for the Homeowner In or Near a Forest

Defensible Space: The Best and Only Hope for the Homeowner In or Near a Forest

If one is going to live in or near a forest, one assumes a higher risk of fire. The best way to minimize that risk is to seriously and continually create and maintain defensible space. It’s not cheap. If it were, it would have been done already.

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More Moral Hazard Than Fire Hazard: The Responsibility of Homeowners in the WUI

More Moral Hazard Than Fire Hazard: The Responsibility of Homeowners in the WUI

In the backcountry, fire is wonderful, necessary, and inevitable.... In the frontcountry, fire is awful, unnecessary, and preventable.... The biggest problem with fire occurs where the frontcountry meets the backcountry, the bureaucratically named wildland-urban interface (WUI: “woo-ee”).

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Selling More Heroin to Pay for Methadone: Oil Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Part 2

Selling More Heroin to Pay for Methadone: Oil Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Part 2

As part of the tax bill recently signed into law by President Trump, at the behest Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Congress opened up Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. The next battle over drilling the in the refuge is about to commence. For the caribou and nature, each battle must be won or at least a draw. For the forces of darkness, they must only win once.

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Selling More Heroin to Pay for Methadone: Oil Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Part 1

Selling More Heroin to Pay for Methadone: Oil Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Part 1

The pending tax cut legislation in Congress would open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to oil exploitation. What does oil drilling that harasses caribou have to do with taxes? It’s a long and tangled tale,

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A Solution to Corridor Collisions: A National Wildlife Corridors System

A Solution to Corridor Collisions: A National Wildlife Corridors System

Just as it is in the public interest to have systems of corridors for the movement of vehicles, oil, gas, electrons, and water, it is in the public interest to have a system of corridors for wildlife.

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Public Lands Conservation in Congress: Stalled by the Extinction of Green Republicans

Public Lands Conservation in Congress: Stalled by the Extinction of Green Republicans

Many politicians call for a return to the era of bipartisanship as a solution to any woe. This call has resonance because the bipartisan era occurred in the living memory of baby boomers. But in the long arc of history this era did not last long, and the evidence of today does not give much hope of a return to it.

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Preremembering Barbara Roberts, Oregon Conservationist

Preremembering Barbara Roberts, Oregon Conservationist

Millions of acres of federal old-growth forest still stand because of former Oregon governor Barbara Roberts (D). The Upper Klamath River would have another damn dam and not be safely within the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System if not for Roberts. Oregon would have some god-awful cyanide heap leach gold mines if not for her. If not for her . . . (there’s much more).

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Many National Parks Arose From National Monuments

Many National Parks Arose From National Monuments

The originations of 25 of our 59 national parks, totaling 39.6 million acres, were first seeded by the establishment of a presidentially proclaimed national monument. Fourteen of these monumental 25 were established from more than one national monument proclamation, in that were expanded by later presidents.

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The National Landscape Conservation System: In Need of Rounding Out

The National Landscape Conservation System: In Need of Rounding Out

In 2000, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt created, by administrative order, the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS), to “conserve, protect, and restore these nationally significant landscapes that have outstanding cultural, ecological, and scientific values for the benefit of current and future generations.”

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Energy Exploitation on Federal Public Lands? Not!

Energy Exploitation on Federal Public Lands? Not!

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and I don’t agree on most public lands issues, including greater sage-grouse, national monuments, fossil fuel energy exploitation, and endangered species to name a few. But we do agree on at least one matter: Solar panels don’t belong on public lands.... While photovoltaic panels can happily and profitably live on roofs in town, bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, and sage-grouse cannot.

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Oregon’s Wildlands Should Matter At Least as Much to Oregon Legislators as Alaska's and Utah's

Oregon’s Wildlands Should Matter At Least as Much to Oregon Legislators as Alaska's and Utah's

However, their cosponsoring a tundra wilderness bill in Alaska and a red rocks wilderness bill in Utah—at relatively large acreages of 1.6 and 9.1 million acres respectively—contrasts unfavorably with the Oregon congressional delegation’s efforts to conserve and restore Oregon’s green forests, tan deserts, and blue waters for the benefit of this and future generations.

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The Columbia River Gorge Is Dead; Long Live the Columbia River Gorge—Unless Greg Walden Has His Way

The Columbia River Gorge Is Dead; Long Live the Columbia River Gorge—Unless Greg Walden Has His Way

In 1986, Congress enacted the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act to, among other things, “establish a national scenic area to protect and provide for the enhancement of the scenic, cultural, recreational, and natural resources of the Columbia River Gorge.” In 2017, Representative Greg Walden (R-2nd-OR) proposes to throw it out the window.

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