Before Cliven Bundy, there were the Klumps.
The tenacious Klump ranching family thumbed their noses at the Bureau of Land Management for more than a decade, flouting federal grazing rules and claiming as their own the public lands under the sheer granite cliffs of southeast Arizona’s Dos Cabezas Mountains.
The conflict peaked in 2002 when a federal district judge in Tucson ruled that Wally Klump and his son Barry had "repeatedly and willfully trespassed on federal lands" by grazing cattle on the Badger Den and Simmons Peak allotments without permission.
BLM could have confiscated the family’s cattle — as it had twice before — but it stood down to avoid what Wally warned would be an armed confrontation. "You take those cows, I’ll kill you as mandated by the Second Amendment," he later told The New York Times.
Backing off proved a wise move. Wally was jailed for contempt in Florence, Ariz., after refusing court orders to remove his 28 cattle from Simmons Peak. The 70-year-old spent a year in a cell before agreeing to cull the herd, which he did in the summer of 2004. Neither allotment has been grazed since.
While the extended Klump family still holds grazing permits on 11 allotments, BLM said it "maintains a productive working relationship with these permittees" and all permits are in good standing.
"They never trespassed again," said former BLM Director Bob Abbey. "I think it’s a success story."
BLM’s dust-up with the Klumps could offer a lesson for how the government deals with Bundy and his estimated 1,000 cattle that continue to illegally roam the Gold Butte area of southern Nevada, Abbey said.
Bundy was arrested Feb. 10 in Portland, Ore., and faces 16 felony charges for mobilizing an armed standoff against BLM in April 2014 when the agency tried to impound his cattle. If convicted, Bundy, 69, could spend the rest of his life behind bars.
His cattle — a resilient, ornery herd — remain at large on the Gold Butte landscape (Greenwire, Feb. 26). BLM, per a judge’s order, would like them off the area, but it also doesn’t want to spark another armed conflict.
Abbey said there may be an alternative: Get Bundy to remove the herd in exchange for lighter punishment.
"The Justice Department could use the trespass cattle as a negotiating position with the Bundy family," Abbey said. "I think that could be used as the basis for negotiating some sort of less jail time."
A similar thing happened with Klump, whom the government locked up until he was ready to remove his beef crop from the land.
DOJ has made no indication that any deal could be cut with Bundy. His alleged crimes — assault on federal law enforcement officials, interference with commerce by extortion and obstruction of justice, among others — make the Klumps’ trespass convictions seem tame. If convicted, it’s not likely the government would agree to let Bundy back on the streets.
But here’s why some sort of deal may be plausible.
Tucked deep within the government’s 64-page indictment against Bundy and 18 co-defendants are a handful of allegations that could force Bundy and others to forfeit more than $3 million in property, including his cattle or possibly his family’s Bunkerville, Nev., ranch. That would presumably hurt Bundy, his wife, Carol, and his 14 sons and daughters.
Natalie Collins, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nevada, declined to comment on the forfeiture allegations. She did note that they are separate from fines of up to $250,000 that Bundy faces on each count.
Prosecutors are sending a clear signal that they’re prepared to go after Bundy’s property, said Paul Charlton, who spent six years as U.S. attorney in Arizona during the George W. Bush administration and is now partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP.
"Anybody who is defending the Bundys will know what the law of substitute assets means," Charlton said. It means that if Bundy’s cattle cannot be obtained, the government may go after any other property of the defendants.
"All of those things are lawful and ethical tools the government can use to encourage defendants to enter into a plea agreement," Charlton said. While it’s possible the government would cut Bundy a deal to move his cattle, "prosecutions are, by and large, designed by their deterrent effect."
‘Whatever it takes’
BLM said Bundy’s cattle "continue to be in trespass" but that there are "no plans for a gather at this time as we continue to cooperate with the Department of Justice on the ongoing legal matter."
A Nevada Department of Agriculture official last week estimated Bundy’s herd is worth $700,000 to $800,000.
His family’s 160-acre ranch — jointly owned by the David A. and Bodel Bundy Trust (named after Cliven’s parents) and the Bundy Revocable Trust — has a total taxable value of about $69,000, according to the Clark County Assessor’s Office. It’s unclear whether it could be subject to forfeiture, which would apply to "property derived from the proceeds of the crimes," according to DOJ.
As for the cattle, they continue to wreak ecological havoc on the sensitive Mojave landscape, BLM and conservationists say. Cattle have trampled sensitive soils, devoured native saplings and bedded down against Native American artifacts. One of Bundy’s bulls attacked a Nevada wildlife official, while others have run roughshod over a community garden and a golf course, BLM said.
It’s unclear whether Bundy would ever corral them from the desert he and his Mormon ancestors have ranched for over a century — arid lands that he believes belong to him, not the American people. "Stubborn" would be a generous term for Bundy, according to his critics.
The rancher has famously pledged to do "whatever it takes" to stop the government or its contractors from seizing his cattle. The family is currently selling T-shirts bearing that quote to raise money for its legal bills. Bundy’s youngest son, 17-year-old Arden Bundy, sports the shirt on the ranch website.
"Bundy’s ranch is a symbolic flagship among sovereignist groups," said Rob Mrowka, a biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity who has lobbied for decades for BLM to remove Bundy’s cows. "It has a mythology in the battle of ‘We the People’ against the big bad federal government."
Jail time did persuade Wally Klump to remove his cows, but it took a year, said Bill Civish, a BLM retiree who managed the agency’s Gila District and oversaw the Klump conflict.
"It wasn’t like you persuaded Wally overnight," he said. "Those individuals have very strong convictions."
In fact, it took BLM roughly 15 years to resolve its tussle with the Klumps.
Wally and his brother Wayne first poked BLM in the late 1980s by padlocking gates to public lands, a move that blocked access to 47,000 acres and drew criminal misdemeanor charges from the Arizona Game & Fish Department, according to the Phoenix New Times.
The following year, Wayne Klump took his grazing permit and crossed out several provisions he opposed — a "last straw" that compelled BLM to act, the paper reported.
In 1992, BLM mobilized rangers, out-of-town wranglers, cattle haulers and two helicopters to round up 84 cattle from the Little Doubtful allotment near the Arizona-New Mexico line and sold them at auction in Phoenix, fetching $24,136, the paper reported. The agency called it the first large-scale cattle impoundment since the bureau was formed in 1946.
But that operation and a later one were not without risks.
Larry Humphrey, a retired official from BLM’s Safford, Ariz., office, said the second operation required BLM to block every road going in. It became tense when the Klumps came up to the roadblocks and started to argue, he told the Arizona Daily Star.
Civish said he told then-U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Janet Napolitano that trespass cows weren’t worth the risk. "It just wasn’t good business practice to put all our people in harm’s way," he said.
BLM today might feel similarly about Bundy.
Unlike the Klumps, Bundy in 2014 mustered roughly 400 protesters, scores of whom openly carried weapons and many affiliated with militia groups, to threaten the BLM rangers guarding his impounded cattle, "nearly causing catastrophic loss of life," said U.S. Attorney for the District of Nevada Daniel Bogden last month.
In contrast, Wally Klump had no such following. Residents in Willcox, Ariz., initially supported him but recoiled when he started talking about killing people, The New York Times reported. At that time, there was no organized militia to come to Klump’s defense.
It’s unclear whether militant types would get in the way of another Bunkerville roundup, but it’s not an operation that can be performed quickly or quietly.
Many critics complained that the federal government did not arrest Bundy sooner for defying multiple court orders to remove his cattle. But the delay may have given prosecutors time to strengthen their negotiating power against Bundy in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.
"If Bundy was wise, he’d get those cattle rounded up immediately and sell them, because he’s going to need the money," said Dennis McLane, who served as BLM’s deputy chief of law enforcement in the 1990s. "The leverage is on the side of the United States right now."