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October 1, 2014

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Politics:

Q+A: Behind the Bundy, BLM battle

The complex case of Cliven Bundy raises questions about grazing permits, tortoises and ranchers’ rights.

Here are a few answers:

Q. Who is Cliven Bundy?

A. A 68-year-old renegade rancher, Nevada native, father of 14. A descendant of Mormon settlers. Known to roll his eyes at the government.

Q. What is the Bureau of Land Management?

A.The federal agency that manages federally owned land, most of it in Western states.

Q. How big is Bundy’s ranch?

A. His ranch is about 160 acres in the Gold Butte area, about 75 miles northeast of Las Vegas up Interstate 15. But for two decades, Bundy has also allowed the cattle to roam about 150 square miles of federally owned desert surrounding his ranch. That area is about 10 percent larger than the entire City of Las Vegas.

Q. What is the dispute all about?

A. Bundy has refused to apply for the required permits or pay the monthly grazing fees.

Q. When did tensions boil over?

A. Things came to a head when environmentalists threatened to sue the agency to protect the endangered desert tortoise that lives on the land where Bundy’s cattle grazed. The BLM said Bundy’s cattle trampled the tortoise’s habitat. But officials also say the operation was a last resort. In a statement, the agency said: “In this case, the BLM and the National Park Service have made repeated attempts to resolve the matter with Mr. Bundy administratively and judicially for over 20 years. Mr. Bundy has also failed to comply with multiple court orders to remove his cattle from the federal lands and to end the illegal trespass.”

Q. How much money does Bundy owe the government?

A. Depends who you ask. He’ll tell you that he has refused to pay the BLM grazing fees since 1993, bringing his tab to about $300,000. But the government says he owes $1 million and will have to pay for the some of the round-up costs.

Q. What happens to the seized cattle?

The BLM plans to offer cattle owned by Bundy back to him – but he first has to pay the agency for the cost of the round-up. If Bundy does not pay up, the cattle can be sold at auction. The BLM has also found cattle owned by other ranchers, who will have a chance to reclaim their livestock.

Q. How much will it cost and how many officials are involved?

A. The BLM declined to answer that question, saying they would share more information once the roundup is over.

Q. How many cattle does Bundy own?

A. Bundy told reporters it’s about 500. The BLM has estimated 900.

Q. How long will this go on?

A. The BLM says it will take about a month.

Q. How many ranchers are there in Nevada?

A. The BLM controls three grazing areas in Southern Nevada and about 800 statewide. Nationwide, the BLM doles out 18,000 grazing permits and leases 157 million acres to ranchers.

Q. How rare is a showdown between ranchers and federal agents?

A. Very. Especially large operations like this one. BLM officials say it oversees four livestock impoundments a year, usually involving only a few dozen animals.

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