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Feds claim Cliven Bundy owes more money than all other ranchers combined

Published time: June 06, 2014 16:08
Rancher Cliven Bundy (Reuters/Mike Blake)

Rancher Cliven Bundy (Reuters/Mike Blake)

Cliven Bundy isn’t the only cattle rancher in United States, but his bill with the federal government might make you think as much. The embattled states’ rights activist reportedly owes the feds more than all other ranchers combined.

For failing to pay the US Bureau of Land Management decades’ worth of grazing fees and other fines, the federal government says the Clark County rancher owes around $1 million to Uncle Sam. That dispute was the catalyst behind a high-profile standoff earlier this year in which BLM officials attempted to wrangle up Bundy’s cattle, in turn rekindling a discussion on states’ rights that quickly made him the most famous rancher in the US, if not the world. Now upon analysis of his bill, he’s also the most indebted.

The $1 million that Bundy owes to the BLM is practically quadruple the amount that all other ranchers owe in grazing fees, E&E reporter Phil Taylor wrote this week.

“Of the roughly 16,000 ranchers who graze cattle on BLM lands, 458 have late grazing bills totaling $237,000,” Taylor reported citing agency date.

On Bundy’s part, he’s accumulated grazing fees and trespassing fines since the early 1990s that now account for more than $1 million. As things stand now, though, he’s all but expected to pay up. Bundy has said several times that he will pay his dues to local authorities, but refuses to acknowledge the jurisdiction that the BLM, a federal agency, has over land that he claims to have had in his family long before the government.

“I would pay my grazing fees to the proper government, which I would say is Clark County, Nevada," Bundy told Deseret News back in April.

"I don't believe I owe one penny to the United States government," Bundy said. "I don't have a contract with the United States government."

As it turns out, Bundy is in the minority with respect to this: Taylor reported in Wednesday’s article that less than one percent of the 16,000-or-so ranchers using BLM property are behind in their bills.

"We have good relationships with our permittees," BLM spokesman Craig Leff told Taylor. "By far, the vast majority pay their bills on time."

As it currently stands, those bills are based off of a fee of $1.35 per month for each cow and calf on BLM and Forest Service lands, which Taylor reports is far below what is charged on private or state lands.

Nevertheless, Dustin Van Liew — the director of federal lands for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association — told E&E that other ranches are feeling pressured from these small but still significant fees, which the White House has proposed raising by upwards of 75 percent.

"Nearly all public land permittees (97 percent) pay their market-based grazing fees, and on time, despite the fact that they continue to face greater regulatory pressure and ever increasing costs of operating from the federal government in the form of endless regulation stemming from the endangered species act, monument designations, and backlogged permit renewals," he told Taylor.

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