LAS VEGAS — Wielding signs and slogans, several hundred demonstrators rallied Monday to support beleaguered Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy after authorities began to seize his cattle from federal land.
Protesters had responded to an alert that promised: "Range war begins at the Bundy ranch at 9:30 a.m. We're going to get the job done!"
Federal officials say Bundy is illegally running cattle in the 600,000-acre Gold Butte area, habitat of the federally protected desert tortoise. A federal judge ruled last year that if Bundy did not remove his cattle, they could be seized by the Bureau of Land Management. That seizure began Saturday.
Bundy and his supporters remain unbowed.
"We have hundreds of people here standing behind us," said Bundy's daughter Bailey Logue, 22, during a telephone interview Monday from the family ranch, as a rooster crowed in the background. "We're letting these federal people know that the Bundy family is not the only ones who care what happens to this land."
Bundy, 68, has refused to pay BLM grazing fees since 1993, arguing in court filings that his Mormon ancestors worked the land long before the BLM was formed, giving him rights that predate federal involvement. His back fees exceed $300,000, he says. The government puts the tab above $1 million.
Federal authorities have closed off the Gold Butte area and are rounding up what they call "trespass cattle," many of which belong to Bundy. By Monday, 134 cattle had been impounded, according to the BLM website.
"Cattle have been in trespass on public lands in southern Nevada for more than two decades. This is unfair to the thousands of other ranchers who graze livestock in compliance with federal laws and regulations throughout the West," the BLM said on its website.
Bundy says he "fired the BLM," and vows not to pay the agency he accuses of plotting his demise.
A father of 14, Bundy insists that generations of his family have ranched and worked this unforgiving landscape along the Virgin River since the 1880s. He says government over-regulation has driven scores of fellow ranchers out of business in sprawling Clark County, leaving him the last man standing.
For years Bundy has insisted that his cattle aren't going anywhere. He acknowledges that he keeps firearms at his ranch, 90 minutes north of Las Vegas, and has vowed to do "whatever it takes" to defend his animals from seizure.
"I've got to protect my property," he told The Times last year. "If people come to monkey with what's mine, I'll call the county sheriff. If that don't work, I'll gather my friends and kids and we'll try to stop it. I abide by all state laws. But I abide by almost zero federal laws."
Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that neither Bundy nor the BLM should resort to violence. "No drop of human blood is worth spilling over any cow," he said.
A federal judge issued a permanent injunction against the rancher in 1998, ordering his cattle off the land and setting off a long series of legal filings.
Environmentalists say it's time for Bundy to get his cattle off federal land because they are endangering the habitat of creatures who have been there for eons.
The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement that "surveys by the BLM have found well over 1,000 cattle — many in easily damaged freshwater springs and riparian areas on public lands."
Bailey Logue says officials "roughed up" 37-year-old Dave Bundy, one of Cliven Bundy's sons, on Sunday as he tried to take pictures of cattle being taken from the federal land.
The BLM said in a statement that the younger Bundy was arrested after "failure to comply with multiple requests by BLM law enforcement to leave the temporary closure area on public lands."
Dave Bundy, who was released Monday, has been charged with misdemeanors: refusal to disperse and resisting the issue of a citation and arrest.
Kirsten Cannon, a spokeswoman for the BLM in southern Nevada, said Bundy "owes the BLM and American taxpayers more than $1 million in grazing fees and trespass fines."
"He has been running more than 900 cattle while he only has the authority to graze 150," she said Monday. "He has also made a number of inflammatory statements, saying that he will do what he needs to do to protect his livestock. When such threats are made, the federal government has the responsibility to protect public safety."
The Bundy family vows the range war will continue.
"My ancestors created the rights to that land 100 and some odd years ago," Bailey Logue said. "And we're not giving them up."