Washington, DC – Internal records released by the US Bureau of Land Management concerning the armed stand-off with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy give little clue of what led up to the confrontation and even less of what changed as a result. The records were given to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) as a result of its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against BLM.
In the year following a failed attempt by BLM to seize Bundy’s cattle, which had been illegally grazing on 160,000 BLM and National Park Service acres for more than a decade, the agency has been largely silent and had not responded to a PEER FOIA request for explanatory documents. In a reply dated March 27, 2015, Theresa Coleman, Chief of BLM’s Information Resources Management Division, declared that the agency possessed no records responsive to three of five categories of materials sought by PEER, namely:
What became of the hundreds of Bundy’s cattle collected by BLM before the round-up of trespassing cattle was called off;
Any requests for prosecution BLM made to the US Department of Justice; and
Directives issued after April 1, 2014 within BLM concerning protocols or advisories for handling similar incidents of armed resistance or other livestock trespass situations.
“In the aftermath of this incident, BLM apparently did not analyze either its effects or what to do if it happened again,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that his lawyers are working to verify that this is BLM’s final answer and there are not more unreleased documents lurking in the bowels of the BLM bureaucracy. “Despite operating in what is self-described as ‘the most transparent administration in history,’ this exercise has been as productive as squeezing blood from a turnip.”
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In response to the rest of the PEER request, BLM turned over a total of 44 pages of material. As for what led to the decision to end the Bundy round-up, BLM claims it has only a one-page press statement saying:
“Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public.”
This statement describes a decision that BLM claims was not reduced to writing. Nor apparently, was anything else written about what BLM was doing after the incident.
The other 43 pages are, in some cases, highly redacted communications about “extra safety measures” BLM employees should take, such as this from an unidentified BLM employee advising –
“At this time I recommend keeping a low profile, and not to wear anything that says you work for BLM…If possible try to double up when going to the field.”
“When the history of this episode is written, BLM seems determined to contribute as little as possible,” Ruch added. “So, what lessons were learned from this fiasco? Darned if I know.”