The Bureau of Land Management decided to stand down on Saturday and called off a high-profile effort to round up a herd of cattle that were grazing on public land. The move effectively cools a confrontation with a Nevada rancher, whom the government is accusing of illegally keeping his cattle on publicly-owned land. But federal officials feared for their safety as hundreds of armed supporters vowed to forcefully defend Cliven Bundy’s cattle from what they described as a government that was bullying a regular citizen. The government also agreed to release at least 100 head of cattle that it had seized earlier in the week, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The government had already seized around 500 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,” BLM director Neil Kornze said.
The government had been saying that rounding up cattle was a “last resort” to get Bundy to follow the rules, noting he owes more than $1 million in fees. And while officials say it is an issue of fairness, the 68-year-old father of 14 said his Mormon ancestors worked on the land since the 1880s, meaning he has more authority over the land than the federal government, notes the Los Angeles Times.
The unusual set of circumstances surrounding the attempted cattle seizure turned the issue into “a flashpoint for anti-government groups, right-wing politicians and gun-rights activists,” notes Reuters. Following an incident in which federal agents used a stun gun on Bundy’s son, Operation Mutual Aid, a national militia group, made its presence felt in the area, saying “they set up a camp just in case things got out of hand again,” notes the Las Vegas Sun. “It’s not about cows, it’s about freedom,” Utah resident Yonna Winget told ABC News affiliate KTNV.