Tom Kenworthy at Think Progress goes into the long history of attempts by ranchers like Cliven Bundy to get out of federal grazing fees and the attendant “range war” rhetoric that often goes along with those attempts. They never actually win because the law is crystal clear.
One of those stories began like this: “Cattleman Wayne Hage — rhymes with rage — is one angry cowboy.” Other than the rhyme, you could substitute Cliven Bundy for Wayne Hage and have pretty much the same story.
Hage ranched near the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada, and leased grazing allotments on about three-quarters of a million acres of public land in the forest. He sparred over and over again with the Forest Service during the 1980s over his treatment of that federal land. The agency eventually canceled some of his permits and confiscated and sold more than 100 of his cows.
Hage then filed a lawsuit claiming compensation of $28 million for what he termed an unlawful taking of his property by the federal government which he said included his rights to water and forage on public land. Hage died in 2006, but his lawsuit lived on until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit put an end to it and overturned an earlier $4.2 million judgment in Hage’s favor by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims…
As High Country News reported in a chronology of the Hage case, he inspired other lawsuits and the Nevada ranchers who filed them all lost. Among them was Cliff Gardner from Elko County who fought all the way to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after the Forest Service revoked his grazing permit for abusing public land. Likewise Cliven Bundy, who was first ordered by a federal court to remove his cows from federal lands in 1998.Some of the particulars of all these range war cases differ, but the basics are the same: ranchers who stubbornly insist the federal government doesn’t have the authority to tell them what they can do on public lands, that someone else — the state or the ranchers themselves — actually owns those lands.
This notion has been thoroughly discredited over and over again in the courts. The simple fact is, the hundreds of millions of acres managed by agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service are owned by the public and how they are used is determined by laws approved by Congress and carried out by the agencies.
He also points out that these ranchers are getting an incredible deal on their grazing fees:
It’s not like the deal is so bad for public lands ranchers, either. Right now they are paying $1.35 a month for each cow/calf combination eating our grass. By comparison, the average grazing fee on private land in the West is $16.80 a month, according to the Congressional Research Service, and ranges between $2.28 and $150 on state lands in the region.
In fact, the fees are so low that it costs more to administer the program than it earns in federal revenue, by a huge margin ($144 million to make $21 million a year). But even that small amount is too much for Bundy and the heavily armed shitheads who are supporting him.