The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Clark County, NV, on Monday, Apr. 30, for not taking required steps to protect the desert tortoise, a threatened species, from grazing in southern Nevada. Specifically, the notice targets the agencies’ failure to carry out the mandatory terms and conditions of the Clark County Multiple Species Conservation Plan, Permit and Agreements.
"These plans, permits, and agreements have allowed the county and the cities to destroy up to 145,000 acres of desert tortoise habitat in exchange for promised conservation actions, mostly on federal public lands," says Rob Mrowka, a Nevada-based Center ecologist.
He added that, "For years, the federal agencies and Clark County have allowed prolonged and extensive grazing by trespassing cattle in tortoise critical habitat in the Gold Butte area, south of Mesquite. The tortoise is protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act; grazing is a major threat to its survival."
Mrowka was referring to Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy's cattle that have grazed in the Gold Butte region for years. The BLM planned to round up the cattle on Apr. 11 and move them off the land. Those plans were put on hold at the last minute by BLM officials in Washington D.C.
“Enough is enough,” said Mrowka. “As of December 2011, more than 80,600 acres of desert tortoise habitat have been destroyed in Clark County under the pretense that the agreed-on steps were being taken to help tortoises in protected areas. But since 1998, grazing that was supposed to be eliminated at Gold Butte has gone on, despite two federal courts saying it should stop.”
In 1994 the Fish and Wildlife Service identified areas critical to the long-term survival of the desert tortoise; one was Gold Butte. In 1998 the BLM released its current “resource management plan,” which clearly indicates that grazing allotments in tortoise critical habitat would be closed, Mrowka stated.
"Also in 1998 Clark County bought all valid existing grazing permits for Gold Butte, paying $375,000 to retire them for the benefit of the tortoise," Mrowka added.
Bundy was the only rancher that did not sell his grazing permits. The BLM officially canceled them in 1994. That's about the time Bundy quit paying his grazing fees to the BLM and instead tried to pay them to Clark County who he says is the rightful administrator of the Gold
“While the federal agencies and county superficially attempted to meet the requirements, the reality is that because of their willful neglect, critical habitat has been steadily degraded by the trespass grazing,” said Mrowka. Recent surveys by the BLM have found 700 to 1,000 or more cattle in the Gold Butte area, an amount he says are 10 times above what was legally permitted before the tortoise’s protection. He contends that grazing reduces vegetation the tortoises need to live and spreads noxious weeds by disturbing the soil with hooves and fur that carry invasive seed.
Bundy said in an email to the Mesquite Citizen Journal that the 150 head allotment previously awarded to him under BLM grazing permits "is not accurate. Back in the 1970's it was changed to ephemeral range classification which means we match the cattle numbers with the amount of forage available. I have ran as many as 1,400 head in the 1970s. Also, my preemptive water rights are based on livestock beneficial use."
“We’ve tried to work with the BLM and county constructively to achieve a good resolution to this problem, but with the recent cancellation of a roundup of the trespass cattle, our only option for helping these tortoises is to take them to court,” said Mrowka.
In addition to BLM's notice to Bundy to remove his cattle, the federal agency also gave him 30 days to remove all range improvements he's made in the Gold Butte area over the years. That order was effective upon his receipt of the notice on Apr. 9.
Bundy contends that the federal government does not have jurisdiction over the land in dispute saying that it belongs to the State of Nevada and Clark County. He also says that "Over the past 15 years the Bundy Ranch has improved and developed a supreme genetic breed of cattle adapted and established upon this desert ranch. Many water improvements and developments for wildlife and livestock, forage improvements and fuel load reduction for fire control, and the habitat for livestock and wildlife have been enhanced. The public, hunters, campers, sightseers, off roaders, and all multi-users have enjoyed access and the beauty of their public lands."
The life-long rancher also said in an Apr. 24 letter to public officials that "I have not received an official letter from Clark County Sheriff Gillespie or BLM canceling the cattle seizure" or the trespassing notification and requirement to remove the range improvements.
Posted Date: 05/01/2012 Bravo on this lawsuit! Finally, someone with the guts to force these deadbeats like Bundy to pay up or get out. Bundy can make all the excuses he wants but he is wrong and needs to comply with the law like all the rest of us do. He should also be forced to pay all back grazing fees to us, the taxpayer that probably is in the hundreds of thousands of tax dollars. By: Jason
Posted Date: 05/01/2012 I think the message was clear when the BLM bought up everyone elses grazing permits, time to look for a new career. Wells Fargo don't use stage coaches any more, the post office don't use pony express and the largest cattle ranch in the country is in Florida. Bundy is out of step with the rest of the world and needs to be a responsible citizen. He's slowly turning himself into one of the bad guys. By: Frank
Posted Date: 05/01/2012 What Mr. Bundy doesn't realize is that money (for grazing fees) belongs to the taxpayer so he is ripping us off. He may think he is being some kind of pick on cowboy but he is really just someone that owes me a lot of $$$$$$. By: Nancy
Posted Date: 05/01/2012 I simply don't understand people piling on a cattle rancher. Cattle = food. It's that simple. We want to eliminate another source of human food just to make room for desert tortoises who have outlived their evolutionary window? Sounds stupid and self destructive to me. But the tree huggers have never been accused of being particularly intelligent, so we shouldn't be surprised. Picking tortoises over humans. Yep, sounds like the tree huggers! By: Turner Bailey
Posted Date: 05/01/2012 Mr Bailey missed the point I think. In this country, we have the rule of law. Mr. Bundy chose to go over to the other side and wants us to think he is some kind of martyr. Back in the old west (and my family was ranchers), we called them robber barons. Rule of law - we all gotta live by it. By: Caleb
Posted Date: 05/01/2012 Turner Bailey, let me help you to understand some facts. Western U.S. Cattle ranchers (10 Western States) produce approximately 1% of the beef cattle in the U.S., so I don’t think closing down Bundy’s illegal trespassing on OUR property for his own financial gain will result in a lack of steaks at the supermarket. “Desert Tortoises have outlived their evolutionary cycle” – where the heck did you get that ridiculous statement. Desert Tortoises were here before humans and will probably be here after we’re gone UNLESS humans arrogantly destroy the planet which we all share. OOOPS, I forgot, Bundy and many of his supporters believe that the planet was only created 6,000 years ago so I am probably wasting my time discussing evolution and scientific facts. What is self-destructive, however, is failing to understand the food chain and the interaction of species that is necessary for continued survival on this rock. By: John
Posted Date: 05/01/2012 I think this is a smart move by the Center. The US government seems kind of timid about solving problems. This should do it once and for all. By: Becca
Posted Date: 05/01/2012 give it up bundy - you have no more right to that land than i do, in fact i have more right to it than you. go home to your mellons. By: disgusted with bundy
Posted Date: 05/01/2012 This is the right way to settle this legal question - like gentlemen. By: Sandy
Posted Date: 05/01/2012 And the Garden of Eden was in Missouri. By: Terry
Posted Date: 05/02/2012 Two wrongs don't make a right! I choose steak over Tortise soup any day! Way to waste more tax dollars! With any luck the damn turtles will die off soon and we won't have to discuss it any further! By: Earl
Posted Date: 05/04/2012 How much $ does he owe for illegal grazing for 18 years? I think it is about $270,000? And it would be about 10 times that much if he had to lease private grazing land instead of the public welfare ranching land. Even worse is that BLM/Clark Co. let him get away with this for 18 years - how did THAT happen? Sounds like some government officials need to go "down the road" ... but perhaps they should have their retirements attached to help pay for this since they appear to have been part of the 18 year fraud also?
Posted Date: 06/16/2012 Dont wipe out the rest of the desert to save the unendangerd tortoise! By: bruce barton