I say that’s a shoddy script not worth a plug nickel.

Cooper david
Managing Editor / Progressive Cattle

Americans shouldn’t be hoodwinked into thinking today’s ranchers are just hot-blooded Yosemite Sams, ready to shoot first, think later, as they square off with anyone wearing a federal badge.

But as the standoff rises between Cliven Bundy and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over rangeland 80 miles north of Las Vegas, the scrutiny could do some damage for western ranchers – even if they don’t agree with Bundy’s methods.

Last week, BLM agents amassed en force to round up Bundy’s cattle grazing on public land since Bundy is 21 years delinquent in paying more than $1 million in grazing permits and penalties.

BLM backed off its roundup of Bundy’s cattle on Sunday after the situation escalated between agents, protesters and armed militia members. Given a rising sense that the confrontation was about to grow violent, the agency withdrew. BLM and Nevada officials insist the legal issues remain and will eventually have to be enforced.


I’ve never met or interviewed Cliven Bundy. His cattle issues involving the BLM, the state of Nevada, and the Endangered Species Act, likewise affect thousands of other ranchers grazing west of the Great Plains.

When a family like Bundy’s owns private land since the 1870s, and utilizes public land adjacent to it, they have a connection that runs very deep. With those ties comes a distrust of government power that restricts not only public land uses, but private land use as well. That distrust is legitimate for all ranchers.

Perhaps that’s why esteemed voices within the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, when speaking about Bundy, disagree with his tactics, but sympathize with his plight.

Adding more fuel to that fire is how the BLM stoked the confrontation with Waco-like intensity, restricting free speech to a press staging area, and even tasered a Bundy family member. With such a combative attitude, it’s a miracle that BLM withdrew before any shots were fired.

Against those tactics, any rancher – or common-sense American for that matter – would identify with the controversy.

But when Bundy dismisses not just the concept of public land, but the idea that the federal government even exists, as he has said in several interviews, it’s apparent that this is a rebellion shooting rhetorical blanks.

Fellow ranchers may have their own distrust of government, and sympathize with the battle he wages. But no one joins a posse galloping its way over a cliff. If Bundy’s clan wants to argue the feds have no authority under the law to enforce policy on public-owned land, then it’s a fight they’ll never win.

Today’s western ranchers may dislike the government, but they recognize it plays a part of the landscape in the cattle business. They pay their grazing fees. They pay taxes. They work with endangered species limitations. They understand government has entanglements, yet they navigate them the best they can. And they recognize their roles as cattle ranchers, landowners and law-abiding citizens can’t be separated from another.

One outstanding example of such a rancher was Bud Purdy of Picabo, Idaho, a beloved cattleman who died Monday at age 96.

Bud Purdy’s family settled Idaho land for livestock around the same period of time Bundy’s family did in Nevada. Through the Depression, wars and drought, Bud Purdy worked the stockyards, mountains and pastures of central Idaho, building one of the West’s most respected, successful and beautiful ranches.

He also helped establish the Idaho Cattle Association and agricultural ties with the University of Idaho, and yes, even good working relationships with federal agencies.

Purdy proved repeatedly how a rancher's connection to the land was beyond the creation of profits. He proved that philosophy went beyond mere words in the 1990s when he donated 3,500 acres of his Picabo ranch in a conservation easement to the Silver Creek Preserve. Anyone who visits Silver Creek – just 20 miles south of Sun Valley – know it’s one of the country’s greatest fisheries, an angler’s haven and one of the West’s most scenic natural corners.

I couldn’t help notice that in reflecting on Bud Purdy’s obituary, how his life story won’t capture the headlines quite like the conflagration Bundy has ignited in Nevada. And that’s a damned shame, both for the industry he helped defend and those who know little about it.

Years from now Bud Purdy’s legacy to the cattle industry and the entire West will be certain and solidified. His example of careful land stewardship makes the nation grateful for wise ranchers.

The actions of cattlemen like Purdy should be the standard we strive for, not some jack-booted showdown in the Nevada desert. end mark