Editorial: Rep. Matt Shea should know better than to support lawbreaking Nevada rancher

April 18, 2014

Voters in Legislative District 4 should be concerned that Rep. Matt Shea would venture off to Nevada to support a scofflaw engaged in a dangerous standoff.

Defiant rancher Cliven Bundy’s protest against paying grazing fees has become a cause celebre among people, like Shea, who believe the states can nullify federal laws they believe to be unconstitutional. This doctrine of nullification has been drubbed in the courts. In any event, the state of Nevada isn’t protesting grazing fees, so a passel of officeholders with fringe views on the Constitution have descended on the Bundy ranch to say, “See! This is what we mean!”

You’ll have to pardon the law-abiding among us if we’re not persuaded by Bundy’s act of armed disobedience. He looks more like a freeloader when compared to ranchers who pay to feed their livestock.

In 1934, Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, a bill named for a Colorado lawmaker, to forestall the destruction of public lands caused by overgrazing. Working with Western ranchers, the U.S. Department of Interior placed 65 million acres into districts and sold permits to be administered by the Grazing Service. In 1946, the Grazing Service and General Land Office were merged into the Bureau of Land Management.

The Bundy family has grazed cattle on federal lands for more than a century, but Cliven Bundy decided 20 years ago to stop paying his grazing fees. The BLM has revoked Bundy’s permit, but he has continued to feed his cattle on public lands. As long as this limbo continues, he has the best of both worlds. He doesn’t own the land, so he pays no property tax. And he pays nothing to feed his cattle on public land, unlike ranchers who obey the law.

Bundy’s been defeated in courts, where he’s pressed his ridiculous claim that he shouldn’t have to pay the feds because they shouldn’t own the land. Shea supports Bundy by claiming the feds have engaged in a “war on rural America.” Some war. The feds have been exceedingly lax in collecting on a bill that’s 21 years in arrears, while allowing Bundy’s cows to fatten up for free.

Western ranchers wanted the grazing law, because they were losing their feedlots to overgrazing. With a regulatory scheme in place, vegetation has been reborn and sustained. Grazing fees help manage the land, and ranchers help to conserve it.

To law-abiding ranchers, Bundy’s just a moocher who doesn’t want to pay his fair share.

Nevada was not forced into the union. Its founders knew most of the land would be federally owned and controlled. Constitution lovers take note; it says so in the state’s founding document: “That the people inhabiting said territory do agree and declare, that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory. …”

This land isn’t their land. Public grazing is a privilege, not a right.

Lawmaker Shea should know better than to condone lawbreaking and inflame a volatile situation.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.


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