Letter to the Editor: The spirit of the West; range war

OPINION – Reading the unfolding saga of the Bundy family and the BLM over the last week has given me chance to reflect on the West and its relation to the story of America. The struggle over the control of whom, what and which “business” can be conducted on BLM land has sparked strong emotions on both sides of this argument.

Locally it has been on talk radio almost every day and the story has even been published in the LA Times earlier this week. It goes with saying that this is a hot topic in the American Southwest at this time.

As I have read the comments on the story I’ve been surprised by the number of people who are siding with the BLM and calling the Bundy family every name in the book while giving Federal Bureaucrats a free pass.

I guess Americans have forgotten what the West means.

BLM sign along Interstate 15. Bunkerville, Nev., April 3, 2014 | Photo by Dave Amodt, St. George News
BLM sign along Interstate 15. Bunkerville, Nev., April 3, 2014 | Photo by Dave Amodt, St. George News

The West has always represented freedom and the ability of man to go there and be left alone, historically as the United States filled up its cities and people grew tired of rules, regulations and being told by some “official” what they can and can’t do- city dwellers that longed for the freedom our country was founded on left it all behind and headed out West.

One of the things completely left out of this Bundy vs. BLM debate is that it is almost a certainty that had the Bureau of Land Management and its ability to block, regulate, fine or tax a citizen from “trespassing” on their own “public” lands (remember that all BLM land signs say “your public land” on the bottom) existed in the early days of the American West none of the thriving, vibrant cities we currently have would likely exist.

Phoenix? No way, endangered owls, desert foxes, mountain lions and coyotes have to be protected.

Los Angeles? Nope, those LA Brea tar pits (in the middle of downtown L.A) are a culturally sensitive landmark that must be preserved.

Denver? No, as cutting ski resorts in the mountains or mining would have never been “approved” by the BLM.

St. George? Not in a million years would the BLM would have granted a group of exiles permission to displace a few Gila monsters in the red hills and settle on the habitat of a scarce turtle and lizard.

See where this is headed?

Does anyone reading this actually think the West would have been settled had the BLM been there to “manage” the/”our” land?

Ranchers, Cowboys, Pioneer Women, and Homesteaders settled the West and created something amazing in a harsh and hostile land– and they did it without the BLM “administering” every facet of their lives- it’s called the Spirit of the West and the (lost) American ideal of hard work.

Fast forward just 100 years- what happened to that Spirit?

Why do so many feel that the Federal government must give everyone permission to do anything on “YOUR public lands”? – quick question; if they are “our” public lands then why don’t “we” get to decide what happens on them? Why does the D.C beltway policy tell us what to do with “our” Public lands?

Think about it residents of Nevada and Utah – what does the term “your public lands” mean to you?

While you are pondering that, listen closely for the sound of hoof beats, lowing of cattle and a lone Cowboy calling in his dog ………. you may never hear it again if the BLM has its way on “your” public lands.

Submitted by Jason M. Smith

Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them; they do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News.


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Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting.


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  • Arlin Hughes April 6, 2014 at 8:03 am

    Please scratch this comment on this it is for Greta’s article !

    • Joyce Kuzmanic April 6, 2014 at 8:17 am

      Gotcha – will do – and this one too, once it has a moment to notify you, Mr. Hughes.

  • JAR April 6, 2014 at 8:26 am

    Jason Smith,
    I stand in agreement with your true, American of the West logic, thanks.

  • peter wilson April 6, 2014 at 9:07 am

    This article does fight for the protection to use “our lands” as we want, not as disconnected folk in DC want. However, the author presents a very one-sided view that the land should be available simply for grazing and a 19th-century cowboy mentality that no longer exists in the age of 300+ million Americans. Who decides what use the public lands are for? can any individual then go out and set up to drill for oil/gas? dig a hole and build a mansion? raise gila monsters and tortoises? From the point of view of this article, the public lands are open for anyone to do anything they want, and that will surely destroy the lands more so than cattle or cowboys. In a culturally, ethnically, politically diverse world of today, some control and/or regulation must exist to protect that land. Otherwise it will be a free-for-all, and each entity will claim rights to that land (as the Bundys have) and then there will more disputes like this one as to who “owns” it. It is public for everyone to use, not anyone to use. Please do not destroy the lands that you, myself and our future generations want to enjoy.

  • Kayla April 6, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Whoa! Finally something to read that explains what is REALLY going on here! So well said, Jason. Thank you for this. I hope everyone reads this and takes a step back to actually THINK about what is happening. It’s a very dangerous line to cross by allowing the BLM do this.

    • NotMittens April 6, 2014 at 2:28 pm

      Kayla, I assure you that plenty of rangeland managers, ecologists, biologists, and other well-educated, hard-working folks have spent plenty of time thinking about this. As evidenced by many of these comments, plenty of folks on the other end of the equation are “thinking” about it too. Unfortunately, their cognitive abilities end about 3 feet in front of their 6-fingered hands.

  • Bub April 6, 2014 at 10:06 am

    This guy was born 200yrs too late…

  • Rainbowruth April 6, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Are these the same farmers/ranchers who accept government subsidies? Dues paying Farm Bureau members? Where is your voice of agriculture now? Tax breaks on fuel, property, equipment, income, etc. shouldn’t all small businesses be allowed the same? Waiting till the final hour to act, then throwing your arms in the air you scream for yet another exception to the rule. I am in full agreement that the federal government has too much control and power than we can induce long term. My argument is with those who claim sovereignty when it’s too late, all the while accepting government subsidies, tax breaks, privileges to land, etc. saying nothing about restrictions to hunting/fishing rights, polluting camp grounds, free roaming on roads causing accidents, and destroying water tables to water crops that are sold over seas. There was a time when farming and ranching was a noble profession, the numbers of the noble have dwindled. Most farmers/ranchers have sold out to development and corporations, making millions then moving on. I feel for those who are struggling to be “real farmers/ranchers”. The Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union, Cattle Association, Dairy Commission, etc have all sold you out. Wake up and smell the coffee.

    • NotMittens April 6, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      Well-put, rainbowruth. The truly commendable, hard-working and honest ranchers — those with integrity — are rare these days. It’s a poorly-kept secret that those who complain the loudest about the evils of “big gubment” are the same folks who cozy right up to that government teat, never hesitating to take whatever handouts they can. The hypocrisy is unbelievable. And, they don’t stop with government handouts, they’ll take whatever they can from the rest of us, too: sucking aquifers and streams dry (as you pointed out), illegally posting “no trespassing” signs on public land (this is a rampant problem exposed to anyone with a land-ownership overlay GPS), and single-handedly blocking incredibly valuable and time-consuming conservation efforts (as in Bundy’s case).

  • John B. April 6, 2014 at 10:31 am

    “The West has always represented freedom and the ability of man to go there and be left alone.” Take a moment to research the number of floods, caused by overgrazing, in the late 19th century that destroyed others property. Overgrazing was once a huge problem that infringed on the rights of others. The ranchers actions did not “leave others alone,” as the West had promised, so the government had to step in. A lot of the blame for current grazing laws, rests on the shoulders of former cattle and sheep men. A lot of the blame for this situation rests on Mr. Bundy, for refusing to pay his fee. If I stop registering my car and paying for car insurance and then it gets impounded will so many call that big government and support me too?

  • Mike April 6, 2014 at 11:50 am

    Not that I agree with everything that the BLM does, they are necessary. The public is made up of too many different kinds of people, all with different interests and ideas of what the public lands should be used for. If there was nobody or nothing to regulate how public lands can be used, they would not only be destroyed, but people would always be fighting. As the population in the west grew, there were a growing number of disputes about who gets to use the public land and for what. That’s why the BLM was created in the first place. People in general are far too selfish and inconsiderate to be able to allowed free reign on public land. There has to be some way of regulating its use. Not that I think the BLM does a good job, I think a lot of their decisions are influenced, either directly or indirectly, by money rather than what is best for the land, which is sad, and we should fight that, but I don’t think ignoring their laws and their authority is the best way to go about it.

  • NotMittens April 6, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Jason, I’m glad that the modern version of “the West” is nothing like your fantasy. If it was still a place, as you fantasize, where a man could go without having to worry about the inconvenience of the rule of law, what would it be like? I’ll give you a hint: those with money and power would grab whatever they could and to hell with the rest of us. If you’re on the privileged side of that equation, I can understand your fantasy. Like your neighbors house and land? Have more guns? Have the $ to hire some goons to back you up? Then go for it, just take whatever you want. If you don’t have the wealth and power to protect yourself from those who do in your fantasy-land, then you’re argument is pure self-destructive ignorance.

    If you can really believe the west is better off without the law, then I can see how you consider Mr. Bundy to be something other than the selfish, ignorant freeloader that he is.

  • Waco Charlie April 6, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    Actually the west wasn’t settled without the help of our governent. None of those cities in the fairy tail would of existed without the US Calvary and infantry. Just say’n. It’s always been about $’s. For all parties. Oh wait except the native Americans. No I’m not American Indian and I’m not siding with the governent. Just a settler like most of us. How the government treats us and how we treat this planet are greatly flawed. The government and the cattle industry our way out of control. I think both sides need revision. Now that’s my 2 cents worth after throwing down a nickle…..I’m expecting(hoping) for change!

  • Cabasarosa April 6, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    Am glad to see everyone so informative on this issue, rounding up 1100 cows at 10,000 dollars each that’s a lot better value than it costs every year to round up my cousins and send them back home. Beside some of the cows have gotten addicted to loco weed, oh well the recovery house in Bloomington is charging that a year per yearly visit, at least the cows didn’t have a choice to trespass. I also heard that the bulls are attracted to each other so heards not growing( no over population) but the bulls are adopting turtles (cuz everyone deserves a turtle even if ya can’t make your own) I’m just glad to see that all is well in the world. And that people are getting smarter every year no matter where they move here from.

  • caydon Hughes April 6, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    we the people settled the West. don’t forget the government place in the world where above them. unless your slaves this is the way we chose to settle the west and if we didn’t do it this way then it wouldn’t be the west. so sad to see this. its sickening. like they said he’s the last. Don’t take a mans livelihood away from him

  • JAR April 6, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    I think local control deserves consideration in this discussion. Would the State of Utah be better overseers of our land than the kingpins in Washington? Granted, there might be some under the table crap going on in eighter case, but it’s a local decission and oversight. It’s better to look into a eye of a local neighbor than a EPA or a BLM jocks back side while he/she is looking for the highest bidder.
    Old man Hatch has some good suggestions on the subject.

  • Lori Houston April 7, 2014 at 12:18 am

    This is not just about cattle. It is about the heritage of the west built and protected by the blood sweat and backs of men like Cliven Bundy. The So called “Contracted Cowboys” who should not be above the law yet have been given free reign. Crossing state lines with cattle with no documentation or proof of brands, I have not found a business licence in Clark County of Nevada with Shayne Samson on it ask any other contractor in the state and Clark county how they feel about that “Special ” treatment? Where are the County Commissioners and the Governor of Nevada? I as a avid outdoor person who have not committed any crime or made any threats cannot take a Sunday drive to the areas I thought were Public lands. Why all the cloak and dagger are they breaking the BLM’s own land use guidelines? what would happen if you or I decided to go and start pounding posts up? If you do not live here or use these lands as I do study this and make sure you understand all the ramifications and power this prescience will give the BLM to close Public lands. I have been to Gold butt many time and I LOVE seeing the cattle just as much as the other wildlife in the area. Cliven and his family on his own time and money have cared for. Without him there would be no big horn sheep or turtles in the area. The wildlife would have migrated or died. we are and have been in a drought. he has made sure there is water. Without the cattle grazing and the dry conditions wild fires would have taken all plant life in the area. Study up these are proven facts. Now what are we going to do is the BLM gong to go out and care for this land like the Bundy family has? How much land was damaged in Nevada from wildfires? Were they in protected ares?

    • LeLando April 8, 2014 at 12:53 am

      If all you say is true, what would have been so wrong with him paying his grazing fees just like any other legitimate rancher grazing on public lands does? They develop water resources, also, but don’t think they should have a free pass to not pay their bills.

  • melissa April 7, 2014 at 6:48 am

    They used to think that radiation and mercury would cure anything. They would give morphine and herion to children. The point is, just because it used to be, doesn’t mean it still should be. I understand the point that it is “our public lands” but if it was not managed there would be no land left. The tortoise was there long before ranchers and cattle and if it is a matter of who was there first, well…

  • Sparky April 7, 2014 at 9:05 am

    The narcissism in this letter is amazing.

    They are indeed “our” public lands and those who profit from them should contribute payment to compensate the balance of us. When I use public lands to earn a living guiding, I gladly pay my 4% fee to the BLM. Why should this clown be exempt? The world if full of people who believe the rules do not apply to them for a plethora of reasons. The only mistake the BLM made was letting this go on for way too long before the enforced the law.

  • Chris April 7, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    This is not the “West” of 1877, and much of the “West” that Jason Smith fantasizes about did not really exist in 1877 either.

  • VIsta Storm April 7, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    Wait, wait, waaaaait a minute! Forget the above rant if you can.
    Folks, there is a far more pertinent discussion that we should be having.

    Ed. Ellipsis

    • Joyce Kuzmanic April 7, 2014 at 6:50 pm

      Vista Storm, with due respect for your efforts – I’m afraid your suggested missive is too long for this forum. You’re welcome to cut it down by 2/3 and try again.
      ST. GEORGE NEWS | STGnews.com
      Joyce Kuzmanic
      Editor in Chief

  • Mangog April 10, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    I am pleasantly surprised to see so many posters exposing this crybaby rancher who thinks he is the exemption to the rule. The BLM does a good job of caring for the public land, I have enjoyed many days on such lands without incident because I don’t feel I am special in any way like crybaby Bundy. He should pay the grazing fees and shut up, the US government is in every way responsible for the West being settled, the US soldiers are the only reason it was successful. Maybe I should sidle up to crybaby Bundy’s cattle and just take one, hell its on MY land!!!!

  • Disappointed April 14, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    Good grief–the rugged individualists are adamant against welfare and bail-outs, but when some freeloading rancher decides it’s not just enough that he’s a freeloader, he needs to be a hero too? Throw him a parade, he’s the last of his kind (if we’re lucky, last of the freeloader ranchers living off our tax dollars). Just great. Last people I would have expected to be defending welfare for cows to preserve “heritage”.

  • [email protected] November 1, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    We need someone to protect the Citizen from the Washington County Assessor’s
    office Abuse of Authority. Maybe a good county commissioner.

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