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Nevada Public Lands Face Uncertainty After Bundy Ruling

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Public lands advocates fear the precedent set with Cliven Bundy's release will encourage others to seize public land for private use.(Gage Skidmore)
Public lands advocates fear the precedent set with Cliven Bundy's release will encourage others to seize public land for private use.(Gage Skidmore)
January 15, 2018

BUNKERVILLE, Nev. -- Progressive groups cried foul when a federal judge released Cliven Bundy last week, but others say justice was served - even if the debate continues over federal control of public lands.

U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro found that the prosecution intentionally withheld evidence and ruled the case cannot be retried. Bundy was accused of inciting an armed insurrection in 2014 after the federal Bureau of Land Management tried to remove his cattle from federal land over unpaid grazing fees.

Maria-Theresa Liebermann, deputy director of the group Battle Born Progress, said this only emboldens those who break the law and threaten public lands.

"Twice they have decided to attack our federal public lands, attack the folks that are simply trying to do their job to protect them, and they got off scot-free, and it's not right,” Liebermann said. "They're domestic terrorists, and they should have been held accountable."

Two of Bundy's sons also beat charges related to the armed seizure of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon that turned violent. Several of his supporters won their criminal cases; others have yet to go to trial.

Bundy argued that the federal government has no right to own public land or charge grazing fees, and he wants to see the state take over control of federal public lands. Three federal judges have rejected that argument.

University of Nevada-Las Vegas law professor Ian Bartrum said the government had a strong case against the Bundys, but badly bungled the prosecution.

"It's surprising the way that the government handled the prosecution,” Bartrum said. "I was shocked to hear all the things that came out in the early phases of the trial that stopped the trial and eventually led Judge Navarro to dismiss the case with prejudice. I think it was a fair reason to dismiss the case."

Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said the judge made a fair decision, but he feels that doesn't exonerate the Bundys.

"We have to have fair trials in this country. Our democracy depends on it,” Suckling said. “Because if people don't believe they're going to get a fair trial, that's when they take up guns."

Suckling said it sets a terrible precedent to allow the Bundys to illegally profit from lands that belong to everyone - and she thinks the Bureau of Land Management should round up Bundy's cattle, even at the risk of another standoff.

Sam Toll with the Libertarian Party of Nevada takes issue with the idea of public lands at all, and said he thinks all government land should be sold off.

"Whether it's the BLM or it's the state of Nevada, we don't think that public land should actually exist,” Toll said. "We think that they should be held privately, and private property is a fundamental sort of right and certainly not a fundamental place for any government to be in."

Cliven Bundy has called on the county sheriff to protect him from federal agents, but the Clark County Sheriff said he recognizes federal authority and will not intervene. It is unclear how the BLM under the Trump administration will proceed.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - NV