Allegations that the so-called "land grab" showdown between the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy was influenced by a deal involving Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and a Chinese-backed company failed to hold up to closer scrutiny last week.
But now, a new claim regarding what may have led to the tense standoff is starting to gain traction.
The latest theory on what may have provoked the armed showdown between Bundy and federal agents involves the Bureau of Land Management at one point referring on its website to "trespass cattle" in the Gold Butte area, the same area that the federal government and the 67-year-old rancher have battled over for more than 20 years.
The document, titled "Cattle Trespass Impacts," which was removed from the Bureau of Land Management's website in the midst of the standoff, discusses the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone project and its effect on the local wildlife.
“Non-Governmental Organizations have expressed concern that the regional mitigation strategy for the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone utilizes Gold Butte as the location for offsite mitigation for impacts from solar development, and that those restoration activities are not durable with the presence of trespass cattle [emphasis added],” the Bureau of Land Management said on its website.
But here's the thing: The passage referring to "trespass cattle" appears to indicate only that the federal agency has an interest in detailing which of its solar projects have negative impacts on the local wildlife and vice versa.
“There is some feeble effort to try to mitigate the damage to wildlife [caused by solar development]. Some of it is near the sites of these bird-roasting solar mirrors. This is called 'primary mitigation,'" reported Wildlife News, an environmental blog, adding that in instances where there could be harm done to wildlife in areas distant from solar developments, the federal government refers to this as "secondary mitigation."
So, when the Bureau of Land Management uses the word "mitigation" in reference to the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone project, it's referring specifically to maintaining lands used for clean energy initiatives. In instances where there are solar projects that may or may not harm local flora and fauna, the federal government tries to offset this damage by taking up various initiatives to ensure the long-term health of the land, such as planting grass or developing new water sources for local wildlife. And the federal government announced in a 2014 document that it has eyed the Gold Butte area for mitigation services.
But several private groups, including the Western Watersheds Project, Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Friends of Gold Butte and Friends of Joshua Tree Forest, say they don't believe Gold Butte can be used to help offset possible damage from solar developments, such as the ones involved in the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone project, because any attempt to introduce new initiatives in the area would likely be destroyed by Bundy's nearly 900 "trespass cattle."
The "trespass cattle" note on the Bureau of Land Management's website shows only that the federal agency detailed concerns regarding damage caused by Nevada's solar projects and how "trespass cattle" in Gold Butte complicate efforts to offset damage from these clean energy developments.
The conclusion? It does not appear that the note serves as a smoking gun proving someone in the nation's capital worked behind closed doors to force Bundy's cattle out of Gold Butte in an effort to profit from an undisclosed deal.
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This post has been updated to make it clearer that the BLM has eyed Gold Butte for mitigation services.