Citing safety concerns, federal agents are withdrawing from the Nevada cattle ranch where they had engaged in a week-long showdown with Cliven Bundy, a 67-year-old rancher who claimed the federal government had no right to tax and regulate property his family has owned since 1880.
The Bureau of Land Management had dispatcher agents, helicopters and four-wheelers to remove several hundred of Bundy’s cattle that they claimed were encroaching on federal lands–and may have posed a threat to an endangered tortoise habitat. A BLM spokesperson also claimed that Bundy owed over $1 million dollars in fines that he accrued since the early 1990s. (RELATED: This land is my land: Feds descend on cattle rancher’s land)
Bundy and his family challenged BLM’s authority to “manage my ranch out of business,” he said, according to ABC News.
Federal policies had starved out all the other cattle ranchers in the area, and Bundy saw his dispute with BLM as a challenge to destructive federal power.
“People are getting tired of the federal government having unlimited power,” said Bundy’s wife, Carol, in a statement.
Last week, government agents descended upon the property, which is 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. They set up a blockade on the road leading to the ranch, and clashed with several hundred protesters. Tasers were used on at least one person: Bundy’s son, Ammon. Another son, Dave, was briefly taken into custody by authorities.
The establishment of a designated “First Amendment zone,” drew criticism from many people, including Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, a Republican. Citizens’ free speech rights were protected only when they were standing in the First Amendment zone.
“Most disturbing to me is the BLM’s establishment of a ‘First Amendment Area’ that tramples upon Nevadans’ fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution,” said Sandoval in a statement.
But on Saturday, BLM decided not to remove the cattle, citing concerns that the operation was endangering the lives of both federal agents and civilians.
“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,” said BLM Director Neil Kornze in a statement.
Currently, BLM plans to keep the cattle its agents already took, sell them and give Bundy some of the proceeds.
Media coverage of the Bundy’s plight likely played a role in convincing the government to withdraw. Bundy gave several sympathetic interviews to television and radio stations over the last few days.