By VERNON ROBISON
Moapa Valley Progress
Federal authorities moved last week to restrict access to a huge swath of federal land in northeast Clark County as they prepare to round up what they are calling “trespass cattle” in the region.
The Bureau of Land Management’s temporary closure of roughly 288,000 acres took effect on Thursday, March 27. The restricted land takes in all of the Mormon Mesa south of I-15 and includes everything on the eastern bench of the lower Moapa Valley, directly east of Logandale and Overton.
A closure map released by the BLM last week shows all BLM land from the eastern edge of Bowman Reservoir, as well as from directly across the street east of the Logandale Fairgrounds, and from the eastern edge of Perkins Field Airport; everything on the east edge of the valley has been restricted to the general public. The well-travelled road up the Overton dugway and across the mesa is also currently a part of the temporary closure, according to the map.
For the current BLM temporary closure map CLICK HERE
Also included in the closure is the northern portion of, what is known as, the Gold Butte Complex; the Virgin Mountain Range and the Bunkerville Flats area.
In addition to this, the National Park Service announced the closure of 17,000 acres in the Virgin River Basin on the far northeastern tip of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
These closures are only about half of the total acreage that are targetted for possible closure during the round up operations. Federal officials have identified a total of 587,000 acres that may be restricted because of the roundup.
Representatives from both the Park Service and the BLM say that the agencies are trying to minimize the closures to only what is necessary for the round up to take place.
“We are trying to only close as small an area as possible that will allow us to safely and effectively remove the trespass cattle,” said BLM spokeswoman Kirsten Cannon last week in an interview with the Progress. “We are mindful of this being a time of year when people enjoy those lands. So we are closing smaller areas to limit the impact on public land users.”
Park service officials said that they had avoided the more frequently visited spots at the north end of the Lake in determining the closure areas.
“We are making every effort to minimize closure locations and lengths of closures so not to interfere with the public’s enjoyment of the park,” said Lake Mead Public Affairs Officer Christie Vanover. “Right now, popular locations like Echo Bay, Stewart’s Point, Redstone and the hot springs along Northshore remain open. It’s possible that we won’t have to have any additional closures on the west side of the lake. If we do, it will be for a very limited time in order to ensure public and employee safety.”
Cannon admits that it is problematic for the BLM to police the massive closure of the Mormon Mesa, especially the widely used east bench area of Moapa Valley. She said that closure signs may eventually be posted on the heavier used roads in an attempt to reduce traffic into those areas as needed. But she insisted that the closure of those areas is in effect whether posted or not and that the public should remain out of those areas while they are closed.
While the specific areas that are closed may change as needed during the period of the cattle round-up, the rolling closures are expected to continue in one form or another at least through May 12. During that time, federal officials and contract cowboys plan to impound several hundred cattle belonging to Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy.
This roundup operation is all part of a dispute that has been going on for more than 20 years.
Bundy has insisted that he does not need to recognize federal government jurisdiction on land that his family has used, improved and ranched since 1877. Though he recognizes that he doesn’t own the land, Bundy says that it should be under the jurisdiction of the state of Nevada and that it belongs to the people of Clark County. He has repeatedly said that he will now “do whatever it takes” to protect his property rights on the land.
Federal officials have ordered Bundy to remove his livestock from a grazing allotment that was retired back in 1999 out of concern for the federally-protected desert tortoise.
To strengthen their case, the feds say that Bundy stopped paying his federal grazing fees back in 1993. But Bundy responds that he stopped paying the fees because he realized that they were being used to finance an agenda to drive him and his cattle off of his ancestral allotment.
Lawsuits have been ongoing back and forth in the federal courts for more than two decades now, ordering Bundy to remove his cattle. But throughout all of that, the cattle have nevertheless remained on the land.
In 2012, the BLM hired a contract cowboy to remove the livestock. But the effort was quickly pulled back at the last minute; in part because of a fear of a violent encounter. At that time, federal officials vowed they would return to the courts to strengthen their position.
Last fall, a series of federal court orders did just that. The orders required Bundy to remove his cattle within 45 days. If he did not, the federal agencies were authorized to seize any cattle left on the land and Bundy was expressly forbidden to interfere.
That 45 day period is now well past and federal agencies are moving forward. A contract recorded on the Federal Register shows an agreement with Shayne Sampson of Utah to round up an estimated 1,100 head of cattle for the contract award dollar amount of $966,000.
The latest count in the area by helicopter logged only 568 cattle scattered across a 90 mile swath of federal land. That number is about what Bundy figures is still out on the range. But past federal surveys have reportedly turned up more than 900 head.
A staging area for the operation was established late last week in a rock quarry area along I-15 between Mesquite and the Mormon Mesa.
“I saw where they were set up,” Bundy said. “A whole convoy of cowboys came in setting up a large compound. All these Utah cowboys have come down to steal Cliven Bundy’s cows. Of course, I wouldn’t really call them cowboys. But there they are.”
No exact start date for the roundup had been announced by Monday this week. But it is likely to be soon.
During the time of the roundup access is being restricted to “assure the safety of the public, federal employees and contractor personnel,” the Federal Register notice states.
Areas will also be designated outside of the closure area for “members of the public to express their First Amendment rights”. That area is currently located just across the bridge from Mesquite on the Bunkerville side at the intersection of Hwy 170 and White Rock Road.
Cannon stated that the area of land subject to closure might change from time to time during the next 45 days, depending on the progress of the roundup. Maps showing the specific restricted areas were posted last week online at http://tinyurl.com/leokzah. Click Here to access the website and get the latest map. They will be regularly updated for the public.
“We’d recommend that people keep an eye on the closure maps and plan their trips in advance,” Cannon said. “That will reduce the chance of going out and then being disappointed by not being able to enter the area where they wanted to go.”