For most people, the whole stand-off over cattle in Nevada does not make much sense. As a person who grew up in the west, I would like to explain the problem. When America finished the Civil War, most of the western side of the continent were territories, not states. Unlike the East, and the Mid-West, the federal government insisted that these Western states turn over most of their land to the federal government in order to become states.
The difference in federal land ownership is amazing, as shown by some following maps. However, in my state of Arizona, if you add State, City and County property, only about 10% of our state is open to private ownership. The federal government promised the people living here they could lease the land for various rights, such as grazing, mining, and forestry. The proceeds were to go for setting up schools and higher education universities. These promises were not kept on revenues, and increasingly the federal government has restricted usage.
In the case of the recent flare-up, the cattle rancher’s family has lived and grazed on that federal land for over a hundred years. There was a dispute over money. So, the federal government went in with military vehicles, SWAT teams and actually stole all his cattle, as well as now putting liens on the land that he owns privately. The reason? To protect a desert tortoise. The same desert tortoise the federal government debated exterminating as a pest less than ten years ago, and for which there is no example of a cow ever stepping on or disturbing one.
The owner of the ranch is misplaced in his arguments, but the outrage that the West is owned by the federal government and we all live subject to their whims is growing. The embassy in Benghazi, Libya can be attacked, people killed, and have no military response. The Secretary of State can testify “who cares why it happened?” But want your cattle back, and you are faced with hundreds of troops in body armor with automatic weapons. Show up to express your first amendment rights, and they try to huddle you into a square without restroom facilities or water.
The federal government spends more money taking away your freedom, monitoring your life, controlling you and your property and has a larger domestic armed force than our national defense spends on foreign threats. While the Department of Defense is reducing to 300,000 troops, the lowest since 1940, we have added 120,000 domestic troops armed with the same surplus weaponry for FEMA, game and fish, land bureau, ATF, Park Services, Wildlife services and a host of other agencies that would shock you.
My fear is that the continual federal overreach will spark a violent confrontation similar to Waco where it becomes clear that defying our government will result in armed force. After such an event, it will be an excuse to further disarm honest citizens and give federal agencies military equipment. What are the “rules of engagement” for the Land Bureau? Are we crossing the threshold from freedom to simply doing what the government tells us or face armed force?