Four hundred cows just had the most confusing week of their lives. They were rounded up like, well, cattle, held for a week, then released due to threats of a Wild West-type shootout near Mesquite.
But despite their sudden release, not everything is OK at the O.K. Corral.
You've probably seen the story in the news. Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy has been grazing his cattle on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for over 20 years. The problem is, he's also refused to pay grazing fees and now owes the American taxpayers over $1 million in backdated permit fees.
Despite numerous attempts to resolve the matter, two decades and two court orders passed, and Bundy continued to disregard federal court orders to remove his animals. So last week, BLM officers began rounding up the trespassing cattle.
Bundy, who says he doesn't recognize federal authority, repeatedly promised to "do whatever it takes" to protect his cows. Which included calling his own personal armed militia to show up and protest on his behalf.
Tensions quickly escalated and, citing safety concerns for officers and the public, the BLM blinked first and abruptly released the cattle. While Bundy and his armed clan of Wrangler-wearing, flag-pin patriots are celebrating, the BLM promises the situation is far from over.
And I hope that's a promise they intend to keep. Because allowing Mr. Bundy to blatantly and proudly thumb his nose at a federal court order sets a dangerous precedent -- particularly here in Utah where we have a great deal of federally managed public land and some scarily like-minded anti-government, gun-toting "patriots."
Just like it would be unacceptable (and illegal) for any of us show up at the gates of Zion or Bryce national parks with an assault weapon and demand "This land is ours! We refuse to pay the entry fee," so too is it illegal for Bundy to claim he simply doesn't recognize the federal government's authority over public land and therefore he's exempt from following the laws.
One of Mr. Bundy's main beefs (pun intended) is that his family has been grazing cows on this land since the 1870s, long before the BLM existed. So logically, he should be grandfathered in.
Can someone please get this man a 4th grade social studies book?
Since when is breaking a federal law a right that's been grandfathered in?
The cows his ancestors grazed on that same land over 140 years ago are long-since-forgotten hamburgers now.
A lot has changed since 1870. Things like tax laws, and child labor, and safety standards for employees. All business owners, no matter how rooted they are in the past they may be, must evolve their business with the law. It's why you can't pay a seven-year-old 10 cents a day to hand scrub the floor in your store -- even if your great, great, great, great grandpa who founded that store was able to.
Mr. Bundy chose to stay in the family business. But he doesn't get to choose to stay in the 1870s too. Quite simply, this rancher is a squatting freeloader who was born about two centuries too late.
There are over 16,000 public-lands ranchers in the United States who abide by the laws and pay their grazing permit fees. I would bet they probably have better uses for that money and would rather not pay any fees. But they also understand that's the cost of doing business. It's the rule of law and it's part of the underlying social contract. It's called being an adult.
At their protest, Mr. Bundy and his armed militia chanted a lot about state's rights and freedom. They claimed the federal government has no authority over the state of Nevada. If that's the case, can a city or a county declare it doesn't recognize state law? Could Park City claim itself exempt from the legislated morality grip the state has imposed on us? No more "intent to dine" laws and Zion curtains. Gay marriages fully recognized and legal. Weed for sale on every street corner too!
We could do whatever we wanted... we could party until the cows come home.
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley.