BLM Still Tightly Clutching Bundy Documents
Federal Judge Asked to Order Release of Records on Standoff and Aftermath
Washington, DC — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has yet to release any documents about a year-old standoff with a Nevada rancher nor has it given a reason for withholding them, according to a motion for summary judgment filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) in its lawsuit against the agency for violating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The documents would detail what led up to the April 2014 armed confrontation between self-styled militias seeking to prevent BLM from seizing Cliven Bundy’s cattle illegally grazing on federal lands, and what changed as a result.
PEER made a FOIA request to BLM on April 18, 2014, shortly after the incident, for documents detailing –
- 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;
- 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.
When BLM declined to offer a timeline for deciding to disclose the material, PEER sued it in federal district court on June 12, 2014 for violating FOIA deadlines. In the succeeding months, the government has repeatedly told PEER counsel that a release of documents is imminent but not a single document has been handed over. Today, PEER filed a motion asking the federal district court judge hearing the case to order BLM to surrender the documents. The government has 14 days to respond to the PEER motion.
“BLM acts as if ignoring the Bundy debacle will make it go away, but it only makes it worse,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to government intelligence threat assessment concluding that continued inaction will be a “perceived victory” by anti-government militias allied with Bundy and is “likely to prompt more violence.” “As it stands now – a year later – no lessons were learned, no precautions were taken, and BLM remains tucked tightly in a fetal position.”
After gathering Bundy’s cattle which had been illegally grazing on 160,000 BLM and National Park Service acres for more than a decade, BLM then turned the cattle loose with no explanation. Besides failing to resolve the most egregious grazing trespass case in U.S. history, the episode has emboldened other Nevada ranchers to resist BLM directives designed to prevent overgrazing on drought-stricken federal lands. It has also raised doubts in the minds of BLM mangers whether their agency will support them if push comes to shove.
“It should not take a federal lawsuit and months of foot-dragging to get an explanation for official actions splashed across the evening news,” Ruch added. “BLM can move forward only if it starts being candid with the public it is supposed to serve.”