Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy was in a tense standoff with federal agents over the weekend. He wanted to keep grazing his cattle on the federal land his family has used for decades. Washington, D.C. wanted him to pay for those rights or they would seize his livestock.
After Bundy supporters flocked to the scene and a media spectacle followed, the feds backed off — at least for the time being. Much of the reporting has been contradictory, but the government claimed to be protecting the desert tortoise in the area. D.C. claims the reptile is endangered by grazing cows, while Bundy calls this nonsense.
There was a similar Rancher vs. Tortoise battle in Arizona. Through wise legal maneuvering and scientific savvy, this standoff was a win for both the cowboys and the reptiles. The anti-progress environmentalists and bureaucrats were the only losers.
In 2008, an environmental group called Wild Earth Guardians sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Sonoran Desert Tortoise as an endangered species. Several years earlier, green groups got the Mojave Desert Tortoise listed and blamed livestock grazing as a key threat to the species. This is the tortoise that drove Bundy’s fellow ranchers out of business.
Arizonans didn’t want to suffer the same fate. Rancher Walt Meyer, an esteemed range scientist and former professor, launched an intensive study of the tortoises to see if grazing was really a problem. When Wild Earth Guardians claimed the reptiles were endangered and ranchers were to blame, Meyer submitted his 18-year-long, peer-reviewed study proving just the opposite.
A local land management agency called the Winkelman Natural Resource Conservation District used their legal standing to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to certify that Meyer’s study was the best scientific information available. As a result, the Sonoran Desert Tortoise was not listed as an endangered species and Arizona ranchers remain free to practice their trade.
The environmentalists expected to be up against unsophisticated cowboys, not wily attorneys and science professors. Meyer and his fellow Winkelman ranchers beat the feds and the greens at their own game. In the process, they showed how other local groups can fight back against the Luddites who wish to destroy their way of life.