Nearly 1,000 feral cattle may be starving in the wild after Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy released them when he lost the right to graze on public lands years ago, according to a Thursday report from the Reno Gazette-Journal.
The animals have roamed public lands for two decades, the result of a long-running dispute over land rights between Bundy and the federal government. The dispute escalated to an armed standoff in 2014 that culminated in federal agents backing down over fears that tensions with armed, self-styled militiamen could turn violent.
While the original herd was about 150 animals, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal, its numbers have swelled to 1,000 or more after years of the cattle reproducing freely. A recent petition to intervene with the livestock, which the organizers claims are “literally wasting away and suffering from starvation,” has garnered nearly 6,000 signatures.
But an administrator for the Nevada Department of Agriculture told the paper they have not received any “substantiated” reports that Bundy’s cattle are starving.
“We have not received any substantiated reports of Cliven Bundy’s cattle starving on the Golden Butte allotment – though this may be true to some extent, as Cliven’s management practices leave a lot to be desired,” said Flint Wright, the animal industry administrator for the department.
But the question of who’s response for the cattle is complicated. Wright told the Gazette-Journal that while the cattle are state property because they’re trespassing on public lands, a move by the department to corral the cattle would require an order from the federal Bureau of Land Management.
A representative for the BLM also told the paper their hands are tied when it comes to dealing with the free-ranging cattle.
“The Bureau of Land Management too is concerned about the welfare and condition of the cattle,” Rudy Evenson, of BLM in Nevada, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, all previous attempts to remove Mr. Bundy’s trespass cattle from the public lands have been met with threats of violence and most recently with an armed assault on law enforcement officers.”
Bundy refused to recognize federal jurisdiction over public grazing lands and has wracked up more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees over two decades.
Most recently, Bundy and two of his sons were charged along with more a dozen others for their roles in the 2014 standoff, as well as a 41-day-long armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in rural Oregon this year.