By VERNON ROBISON
Moapa Valley Progress
Editor’s Note: Parts of this article first appeared on the PROGRESS website at www.mvprogress.com on Sunday evening, April 6.
A son of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy was arrested on Sunday afternoon in connection with the cattle roundup currently ongoing by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on nearly 600,000 acres of public land in northeastern Clark County.
Dave Bundy, 37, was taken into custody by BLM officers while he was standing along the north side of State Route 170 between Bunkerville and Riverside, taking video footage of cattle that were grazing along the Virgin River down below.
According to Dave’s brother, Ryan Bundy, several members of the family had gone out for a drive in several vehicles to try to monitor the ongoing federal action to roundup their father’s cattle from the range. They were not travelling on recently restricted federal land, but were travelling along the state highway looking north across the valley for signs of cattle, Ryan Bundy said.
Tensions have been high in the region over the past two weeks as federal agents have moved in to the area to remove what they are calling ‘trespass cattle’ belonging to Cliven Bundy.
The cattle roundup is 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 the late 1800s.
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.
Lawsuits have been ongoing back and forth in the federal courts. Last fall, a series of federal court 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.
On March 27, BLM officials announced a temporary closure of roughly 300,000 acres including everything on the eastern bench of the Moapa Valley, the Mormon Mesa, Virgin Peak range, Bunkerville Flats area and much of what is being called the Gold Butte complex.
Seizure of the Bundy cattle began on Saturday, April 5. By the end of the first day, contract cowboys had removed 76 head of cattle from the area south of the Virgin Peak range, according to a BLM statement. Another 58 were removed on Sunday.
A large number of BLM law enforcement officers have been dispatched to the area to assist and provide protection to the contractors during the operation. BLM officials will not say just how many of these officers are on the ground. But they insist that these forces are necessary, given the tension in the area regarding this action.
“Mr Bundy has created a larger burden to the taxpayers through his statements,” said National Park Service spokeswoman Christie Vanover during a press conference call held Sunday afternoon. “He has said that he will ‘do whatever it takes’ and that his response to the impound will ‘have to be more physical’. When threats are made that could jeopardize the safety of the American people, the contractors and our personnel; we have the responsibility to provide law enforcement to account for their safety. The greater the threats, the more security that is needed to provide public safety and the greater the cost to the American taxpayer. We are hopeful that lawful protests don’t escalate to illegal activity.”
But the Bundys insist that Dave’s behavior along the highway on Sunday afternoon had not escalated to illegal activity.
“He was doing nothing but standing there and filming the landscape,” Ryan Bundy said. “We were on the state highway, not even off of the right-of-way. Even if they want to call [the area that we were filming] federal land; which it’s not; we weren’t even on it. We were on the road.”
Bundy said that several of his family members had gone out in four different vehicles. They were parked along the north side of the road about 200 yards apart, he said. David Bundy had gotten out of his car to film the cattle grazing on the distant landscape below.
Suddenly a large number of BLM vehicles came down and surrounded the area, Ryan Bundy said.
“I counted, they had 11 vehicles all with at least two agents in each one, maybe more,” he said. “They also had four snipers on the hill above us all trained on us. We were doing nothing besides filming the area.”
None of the occupants in the four Bundy family vehicles were carrying any fire arms, Bundy said.
Over their vehicle loudspeakers, the BLM officers ordered the family to leave the area, Bundy said.
“They said that we had no first amendment rights except for up by the bridge where they had established an area for that,” Bundy said.
The BLM has established two fenced areas near the City of Mesquite, that they have designated as free speech areas for members of the public to express their opinions.
The family began to pull away from the roadside area in accordance with the order from the BLM officers. But Dave Bundy was out of his car at the time and didn’t immediately return to his vehicle, Ryan Bundy said.
“He was filming and talking on the phone, I don’t know to whom,” Ryan Bundy said. “It happened pretty fast. They came down on him hard and had a German Shepherd on him. And then they took him.”
Ryan said that his vehicle, which had been stopped several hundred yards behind that of his brother, had by this time approached close to the scene of the arrest.
“I stayed and witnessed the whole thing,” he said. “I told them that I was not going to engage them and that I just wanted to take my brother with me. But they were pushing, pushing, pushing! So I did stay there long enough to witness the whole thing, about 10 feet away from me.”
BLM officials, in response to questions submitted by the Progress on Sunday evening, stated via email that an arrest had been made. But the email gave few details.
“An individual is in custody in order to protect public safety and maintain the peace,” the email states. “The individual has rights and therefore details about the arrest will not be disclosed until and unless charges are filed.”
The incident spurred a public protest event which began at the Bundy Ranch on Monday morning. Over 100 people gathered at the ranch to show support to the Bundy family.
On Sunday evening, Cliven Bundy had sent out an ominous announcement to the regional press promising a range war and inviting the press to cover it the following morning.
“Press – if you are going to cover this you’d better come!” Bundy’s email stated. “We are goingt o get the job done!”
But the Monday morning rally remained a respectful and peaceful protest. The group displayed posters, listened to speakers and began raising a large banner on private land near the Riverside bridge which crosses the Virgin River.
In attendance at the rally was U.S. Congressional candidate, Assemblyman Cresent Hardy and State Assembly candidate Laura Bledsoe.
“It was a good turnout,” Hardy said. “I think that the message got across that this action of the federal government has gotten way out of hand.”
On Monday afternoon, Dave Bundy was released suddenly, after receiving a citation for “refusing to disperse and resisting issuance of a citation/arrest”.