Nevada’s Issues Could Hit Home

As a farmer and rancher, I’ve listened a little closer than most to the dispute between Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal government. The timeline is much longer than the nightly news has time for and the issues and players are more complex than what is often described.

The Washington Post’s Fix Blog recently published a comprehensive timeline of events culminating in last week’s stand-off between Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management. Over the past nine years, the dispute has taken many twists and turns with characters coming, going and threatening harm to others and cattle.

Say what you will about Bundy’s refusal to pay grazing fees, the issue at the heart of this stalemate is something that could impact ranchers across the county. And it’s something Kansas cattle owners should be paying attention to.

The Post’s timeline begins with the federal government’s order to list the desert tortoise on the endangered species list. When the federal government allows that level of protection for an animal, efforts to protect it trump the rights and right-aways of others.

The Bureau of Land Management took over Bundy’s grazing land because the desert tortoise made its home on those same public lands. From there, the BLM began purchase grazing rights from Bundy’s neighbors in an attempt to create an environment for the tortoise to thrive.

That series of events could soon be replicated in Kansas. The federal government recently announced the addition of the Lesser Prairie Chicken to the endangered species list. The announcement will bring with it new land use rules, regulations and restrictions. That could hit home for those that graze cattle across Kansas and four other Midwest states.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has filed suit against the federal government claiming states’ right and federal overreach. But if the Obama administration gets its way, ranchers could lose access to valuable grassland.

The irony is that the building of roads, cities, wind turbines and other permanent structures has done more to harm the prairie chicken’s habitat but those things cannot be removed. So the government will likely look to ranchers, which can be forced off the land.

When ranchers graze cattle, they do so with the land in mind. Ranchers want to return to the same pastures year after year so they are careful to not overgraze grasses or remove plants and other wildlife. Those habits play into the establishment of habitats for the prairie chicken.

Farmers and ranchers are the original environmentalists and never want to interrupt habitats or destroy grasslands. But forcing Bundy and other ranchers off grazing lands only further hurts cattle owners, who are already struggling to continue their way of life and provide affordable beef products for consumers. Supple and demand in the beef market has already been stretched to its limits, fewer grazing acres will pull that spread even thinner.

The Bundy story hasn’t ended and neither has Kansas’ fight to stop the federal government from protecting the lesser prairie chicken. But as the fight continues, it becomes all the more obvious that Bundy’s problems could soon be hitting home for Kansas farmers and ranchers.

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