- Elko County, Nev., Commissioner Demar Dahl said that the land in dispute in the case of rancher Cliven Bundy does belong to the federal government.
- However, he's part of a state-sanctioned task force charged with bringing public land under state control.
- He believes the government's response to the dispute has been "unprecedented."
- The man who says he's a friend of Bundy's also added that the rancher did try to pay the county his grazing fees instead of the federal government.
- "I don’t know why he hasn’t mentioned this more often."
A Nevada county commissioner whose fighting to find a way to bring public land under state control said Sunday that the land involved in a dispute between rancher Cliven Bundy, 67, and federal agencies does indeed belong to the U.S. government, but he said he supports the veteran rancher in his opposition to government overreach.
He also thinks the government's response has been excessive.
“The land that he’s talking about, that he has been using, that’s land that belongs to the federal government," Elko County Commissioner and rancher Demar Dahl -- who added he's a personal friend of Bundy -- said on Sunday during a phone interview with TheBlaze.
"That’s been part of what this fight is about.”
Along with being a rancher and an extremely active member of his community, Dahl chairs the Nevada Land Management Task Force, a group formed in 2013 by the state legislature and charged with developing a legal means to transfer control of public lands from the federal government to the state.
“That’s part of what we do,” Dahl said. “We have been working to develop a process to bring control of those lands to the state. So [Bundy] is on government land, but we want to find a process to have those lands controlled by the state.”
The task force consists of 17 members, each from a different county in Nevada. The group has already held four meetings to discuss plans to transfer control of the public lands to the state. The task force has eight more meetings scheduled for this year and hopes to present its plan for the transfer to the Legislative Committee on Public Lands by September 1, 2014.
“We’re looking for ways to afford this and see if we can manage it,” he added. “Once we transfer the control, nothing would change about the land. It’ll still be public. People can still use them; they can still visit them.”
The land being fought over by Bundy and federal agents, some 600,000 acres in Gold Butte, Nev., belongs to the U.S. government, according to a 2013 U.S. District Court ruling.
“[T]he public lands in Nevada are the property of the United States because the United States has held title to those public lands since 1848, when Mexico ceded the land to the United States,” the court said, adding that the federal government lawfully acquired ownership of the land under the Treaty of the Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Claims that local ranchers should have more rights to the public land, Dahl said, is why the state formed the Nevada Land Management Task Force. The group aims to offer what the federal government offers, but at a local level that better understands the needs and concerns of Nevada's ranchers.
Embattled Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy, left, and his son Dave Bundy talk to a reporter on the corner of North Las Vegas Boulevard and East Stewart Avenue in downtown Las Vegas Monday, April 7, 2014 (AP)
The county commissioner added that he thinks the federal response to Bundy’s refusal to vacate public land has been “unprecedented.”
“They send in armed guards. They send in trucks and they take over the area,” he said, noting the size and scope of the federal response. “Look, if this were you and me, we could’ve sat down and figured out a way to figure this out that wouldn’t have involved what the federal government did. That wasn’t necessary and didn’t need to happen. Here's a man who works hard, runs a large operation -- about 900 heads of cattle. And this wasn't a solution.”
“This is government overreach,” the Elko County Commissioner said.
Dalh said he had heard that Bundy tried to pay Clark County for grazing rights after the federal government cancelled his permit in 1994, but he could not confirm the validity of this story.
“I don’t know why he hasn’t mentioned this more often,” Dahl said, “but when he had his permit cancelled, when he stopped paying the federal fees, he actually tried to pay the county. Obviously, they couldn’t accept his money.”
TheBlaze will contact the Clark County clerk’s office on Monday to confirm whether Bundy tried to render payment to local officials.
“The problem here,” Dahl said of the recent escalation of hostilities between federal agents and the Bundys, “is that these situations involving the federal government are usually figured out and directed by people who are thousands of miles away.”
That, he said, is part of the reason why Nevada is working to secure control of the public lands. Things tend to run better when they’re controlled at the local level, he said.
Citing safety concerns, Federal agents from the Bureau of Land Management and the National Parks Services pulled out of Gold Butte Saturday and ceased their roundup of Bundy’s “trespass cattle,” releasing approximately 389 impounded cattle.
“Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public,” Neil Kornze, the Director of the Bureau of Land Management, said Saturday in a statement. “We ask that all parties in the area remain peaceful and law-abiding as the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service work to end the operation in an orderly manner.”
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