Editorial: Something to stand for

Maria Tussing
Copy Editor
Stewards of the Land: Ranchers, Livestock and Federal Lands Editor's Note: We have compiled a list of all the articles we have published, as well as a timeline of the events, surrounding the Bundy Standoff and other incidents relating to government control of public lands such as the Hammond Fire Trial and the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Click here to read more. 

The situation with Cliven Bundy in Nevada has brought cattle ranching to the headlines of every major news outlet in the U.S. Like any good Western scandal, it involves guns, dogs, cowboy hats, sweeping vistas and helicopters. Everyone has an opinion and everyone has an angle. The one question that seems to have been obliterated by the helicopter downwash, though, is what are these people standing for?

It seems that everyone involved, from Clive Bundy himself to the supporters who have come to stand with him, has a little different take on what the real issues are.

Some call it a property rights issue, or a states’ rights issue. Some call it a government overreach issue. Some call it an Endangered Species Act issue. Some call it a constitutional issue, or a corrupt government issue. Some blame Senator Harry Reid. It’s turned into a first-amendment issue, and a second-amendment issue. But really, what are these people standing for?

Over the bawling cattle, the political pundits, the rotor blades, the social media gossip, these people are standing so they’re heard. They’ve fought their battles in court—some have won, some have lost. They’ve had their fences cut, their horses shot, their cattle harassed. So far, they haven’t shot back.

When these people are lining the roads, it’s not because they think a turtle doesn’t deserve to live, or that they shouldn’t have to pay their grazing leases. They’re standing there because they want someone to pay attention.

Maybe the guy in the black hat is afraid he’s not going to be able to pass his fifth-generation ranch down to his children because he’s lost his grazing lease. Maybe the guy in the baseball cap is afraid of losing his livelihood to an endangered butterfly. Maybe the couple over there had to declare bankruptcy to pay for court costs.

Maybe they just look at Cliven Bundy and see themselves. They know the old saying, “There, but for the grace of God go I…”

They may not even think Cliven Bundy is right. But they believe it’s time they all have rights. They’re seeing that rights have associated dollar amounts, and dollars are something ranchers don’t have. They’ve seen their rights handed to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service. They’ve watched as conservation organizations and animal rights activists, backed by people who know of the West only what they’ve seen in movies, make rules that they have to follow. It hasn’t made the land healthier, it hasn’t made the world better. It’s made some people richer and some people poorer.

It’s when people feel the most helpless and silenced that they feel the most desperate to be heard. Sometimes it takes a gunshot.

So far, that’s been avoided. Everyone is praying it will continue to be. No one wants bloodshed, but the issues they’re standing for aren’t going away, and these people aren’t going to be quiet. F

Fighting for Land