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Feds: Safety concerns led to end of Nevada cattle roundup

| Sunday, April 13, 2014, 5:36 p.m.

Federal land managers say “escalating tensions” led them to release all 400 or so head of cattle rounded up on public land in southern Nevada from a rancher who has refused to recognize their authority.

Bureau of Land Management Chief Neil Kornze on Saturday announced an abrupt halt to the weeklong roundup just hours before the release.

“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 concerns about the safety of employees and members of the public,” Kornze said in a statement.

Hundreds of states' rights protesters, including militia members, showed up at corrals outside Mesquite to demand the animals' return to rancher Cliven Bundy. Some protesters were armed with handguns and rifles at the corrals, and at an earlier nearby rally.

Las Vegas police Lt. Dan Zehnder said the showdown was resolved with no injuries and no violence. Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie was able to negotiate a resolution after talking with Bundy, he said.

The fight between Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management widened into a debate about states' rights and federal land-use policy. The dispute that triggered the roundup dates to 1993, when the bureau cited concern for the federally protected tortoise in the region. The bureau revoked Bundy's grazing rights after he stopped paying grazing fees and disregarded federal court orders to remove his animals.

Kornze's announcement arrived as Bundy repeatedly promised to “do whatever it takes” to protect his property after a string of raucous confrontations.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, issued a statement praising the agency for its willingness to listen to the state's concerns. He earlier criticized the agency for making “an atmosphere of intimidation” and trying to confine protesters to a fenced-in “First Amendment area” well away from the sprawling roundup area.

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