Washington, DC — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is wrongfully withholding all documents about a recent standoff with a Nevada rancher as well as statistics on assaults against its employees, according to a federal lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). BLM has taken no further action since it backed down from a recent armed confrontation between self-styled “militias” seeking to prevent seizure of Cliven Bundy’s cattle illegally grazing on federal lands.
Representing BLM rangers and other resource agency staff, PEER is seeking documents about what led up to and what followed the cattle seizure and subsequent standoff on the Bundy ranch, including –
- Whether the U.S. Attorney declined to criminally prosecute Bundy, making seizure of his cattle the only avenue left to BLM for proceeding against Bundy--whose cattle had been illegally grazing on 160,000 BLM and National Park Service acres for more than a decade;
- Any BLM advisories for handling similar incidents of armed resistance or livestock trespass; and
- Steps taken to bolster the safety of BLM employees. Media reports indicate that BLM staff have received death threats or have been targeted by armed militias.
In addition, BLM has refused to release its annual tabulation of threats and attacks against its employees. BLM has released this annual summary describing the nature and location of such incidents to PEER every year since 1996, when the organization started collecting a database of these assaults following the Oklahoma City bombing.
“Parts of the Sagebrush West are beginning to resemble Eastern Ukraine,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that BLM’s secretiveness is stoking various right-wing conspiracy theories. “To tamp down the rumor mill fueling these high-profile incidents, the BLM should be communicating more with the public not less. This information is important not only to BLM staff but also to members of the public visiting these federal lands.”
During the 1990’s when similar “Sagebrush Rebellion” incidents flared, the reluctance of the U.S. Justice Department to criminally prosecute referrals from the BLM and U.S. Forest Service frustrated land managers who felt powerless. For example, Gloria Flora resigned as supervisor of Nevada’s Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest citing Justice’s timidity.
“Allowing these calculated obstructions and armed threats to go unpunished seems to invite only more confrontations,” added Ruch, pointing to other subsequent incidents such as an illegal off-road vehicle “parade” into closed BLM lands in Utah. “Not knowing the agency’s limits invites violent ideologues to miscalculate with potentially tragic results.”