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Cliven Bundy, right, and Clance Cox, left, stand at the Bundy ranch near Bunkerville Nev. Saturday, April 5, 2014. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management started taking cattle on Saturday from rancher Bundy, who it says has been trespassing on U.S. land without required grazing permits for over 25 years. Bundy doesn't recognize federal authority on land he insists belongs to Nevada.

John Locher, Associated Press - Ap

Facing armed protesters in Nevada, federal officials halt cattle seizure

  • Article by: Paresh Dave and John M. Glionna
  • Los Angeles Times
  • April 12, 2014 - 9:36 PM

– Fearing for their safety as armed protesters gathered in the Nevada back country, federal officials on Saturday suddenly ended a controversial effort to seize hundreds of cattle that a rancher has kept illegally on public land.

The cattle ranch’s owner, Cliven Bundy, and hundreds of armed supporters had threatened to forcefully keep Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employees from rounding up the approximately 900 cattle. Nearly 400 of the cattle had been seized during the past week. They were being held nearby and could be sent to Utah, authorities said.

In a meeting Saturday, Bundy urged Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie to seize the federal officials’ weapons and bring them back to the rancher. The demand coincided with the sheriff, who has sought to avoid bloodshed, reading a news release from the BLM to a jubilant crowd gathered near Bundy’s ranch.

“Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public,” BLM Director Neil Kornze said. He asked that everyone in the area remain peaceful as officials work to shut down the operation.

The government has said the cattle roundup was a “last resort” to enforce court orders ruling that Bundy has failed to pay more than $1 million in fees since 1993 for his cattle to graze on public land. Forcing him either to pay or to give up his cattle is a matter of fairness to the 16,000 ranchers who do follow the rules, U.S. officials say.

The 68-year-old father of 14 has argued in court that his Mormon ancestors worked the land since the 1880s, long before the BLM was formed, giving him rights that predate federal involvement. He says he only owes about $300,000.

“We’re tired of being abused,” Bundy told supporters Saturday during a rally broadcast online. He said they should go take back his seized cattle, and protesters rode their horses and drove their cars to the side of Interstate 15, causing traffic headaches for early afternoon motorists.

As of early Saturday afternoon, the protesters hadn’t made an attempt to retake the livestock.

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said in a statement that local and out-of-state “protesters and militia groups” should go back home and allow the BLM to safely get its equipment out.

“The dispute is over, the BLM is leaving, but emotions and tensions are still near the boiling point, and we desperately need a peaceful conclusion to this conflict,” Heller said. “We are very close to a calm, peaceful resolution but it only takes the action of one individual to stir things up again and bring us back to the brink of violence and no one wants to see that happen.”

The case is the latest flourish of the civil disobedience popularized during the 1970s Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement that sought greater local control in 12 Western states where the federal government administers 60 percent of the land.

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