Let's look at this somewhat sensationalized but colossally misunderstood event from an objective, neutral perspective and determine what it really means for the future of this country.
First, Stop Making Fun Of Tortoise Protection
I know I will get lots of conservative hate mail for this paragraph, but I'm no more afraid of their ideological hogwash than of the liberals'. The ranch is a large private business whose objective is to profit from its grazing animals, and it is unreasonable to expect them to voluntarily neglect or temper their own self-interest for the sake of the public good; such as restricting grazing at a loss to themselves to preserve the ecosystem. I'm not agreeing with the Greenpeace characterization of large business owners as Captain Planet villains with bizarre fetishes for pollution and habitat destruction. But like most people, they will choose their own interests over those of the community under pressure. Because the ecosystem is a community resource for a variety of other interests, there is hence a need for institutions through which other actors can preserve it. I don't know enough about the ecosystem of rural Nevada to have an opinion specifically on the tortoises; but suffice it to say that insisting communal environmental protections of some sort are unnecessary is childish at best.
OK, NOW We Can Bash the BLM
The question becomes what constitutes an adequate institution for preserving common goods that aren't easily divisible and still respecting the rights and interests of private businesses. For the purposes of this post, the answer is "not the Federal government".
For starters, the original order for the Bundy Ranch to change its business operations to protect the tortoises was in 1993. That's over 20 years of paper-pushing before they got to the point where they can enforce the order, and I don't even want to THINK about what this cost taxpayers. In other words, the BLM's mission of protecting a communal resource is a noble one. But it is failing miserably at its job by taking over 2 decades to do it and likely investing far more communal resources in the form of taxpayer money than it hopes to protect. In any remotely accountable organization, this kind of cost/benefit ratio and urgency result in the firing of the entire board of directors.
Secondly, there are its methods. Businesses, just like individuals, have limited resources and have to plan their allocation; and government agencies - particularly Federal - don't exactly have a stellar track record of being considerate of these in "serving the public interest". Eminent domain abuse, for example, is one of the most devastating government excesses of our time, by which 1000s of citizens are forced off their land by government agencies usually on behalf of large corporate interests. On paper, the government is supposed to compensate these citizens for the impounded property, but bureaucratic value calculation is so detached from reality that it mostly destroys their livelihoods.
While I haven't done specific research on the matching policies surrounding the Federal government declaring grazing lands "protected" and restricting access or changing fees; I find the mere prospect of the Federal government having that authority absolutely terrifying. Think about it for a second. Imagine your livelihood is a business that requires some quantity of access to public land in order to succeed. And a little known Federal agency answerable to a little known Federal department that's collectively answerable to 100s of representatives from all 50 States has the authority to declare you no longer have said access, or to establish fees for said access. I don't care what kind of reasonable operation and timelines such an agency is supposed to adhere to on paper; in practice they are completely out of reach in terms of recourse and as history demonstrates - that invites incompetence, belligerence, and corruption.
I can't tell you whether or not the terms of the 1993 grazing restriction were reasonable. I know nothing about grazing and I simply don't have the time to do a large volume of research on the subject. But I can tell you that even if the terms were something Cliven Bundy could theoretically have followed, I respect and applaud him for refusing to do so on the grounds that he does not believe the Federal government should have this authority. There are far bigger issues at stake here than merely his business's economic capacity to soak up the costs. He and his family are heroes protecting the rights of all Americans from the growing tyranny of unaccountable, intrusive Federal bureaucrats.
And that brings us to the key point of this post. I was thoroughly shocked when the Feds announced that they were backing off; I can't recall an incident of such civil disobedience success in modern history. Following this story in recent weeks, I expected another Kent State or Waco style bloodbath. Even though most of those who joined the Bundy family in protest have been very well-behaved and non-violent, in any protest there is at least one overzealous lunatic willing to escalate things. If the government had wanted an excuse to crack down using force, it would have found him; and a few hundred ranchers wouldn't have stood a chance.
I haven't heard any credible reports yet as to where the order to back off originated, and for this and other reasons it is difficult to determine exactly what prompted it. However, considering our Federal government's overall track record for avoiding violence at home and abroad, I don't buy that concern for human rights played a significant part. Rather, it seems whoever gave the order realized that the entire country was watching this very closely and had accurate information due to the diversification of sources with social media, and decided Cliven Bundy represents a number of bulls they don't want to taunt.
The most important of these is the festering nationwide discontent with Federal authority and disregard for its preservation, as evidenced by the country's defiant response to National Park closures and other antics during the shutdown last Fall. Well-regulated militias, just as the 2nd Amendment prescribes, started showing up at the Bundy Ranch ready to insure the safety of a free State from belligerent bureaucrats wielding unconstitutional authority - and they put to shame Statist stereotypes by being disciplined and not initiating aggression. A massacre of them might have ushered in significant unrest among politically similar elements in other parts of the country, and further forceful interventions would be disastrously unpopular and spell doom for any politician supporting them.
The second bull is that of the Mormon Church, which the Bundy family belongs to. I have always had a love-hate relationship with the political activities of this religious organization, being particularly not fond of their lobbying for apartheid for homosexuals. But I cannot deny that it is powerful and robustly and organized. Mitt Romney received as much as 95% of the Mormon vote in the 2012 Primaries, indicating that in political terms - if you massacre one Mormon rancher family, you might just end up having to massacre them all. To add evidence to back this claim, I will share that Edge of Chaos has been graced with a very intelligent Mormon patron in recent months. This man has educated me on the many libertarian leanings of his Church in line with its history, as well as explained that the issue of homosexual tolerance is quite divisive between older and younger members. I wouldn't say my wariness of the political power said esoteric organization wields is completely gone, but it seems safe to assume that a bloodbath at the Bundy Ranch may have been the catalyst to it shifting entirely into the anti-Federalist, libertarian camp - an event that would spell political catastrophe for Federalism.
By backing off, however, the Feds have driven a massive nail into the coffin of Federalism. They demonstrated that nullifying Federal overreach does not require anything resembling a national or even local majority. They showed every businessman, property owner, religious leader, and citizen in general that's tired of the arrogance and unaccountable belligerence of Federal bureaucrats that a tempered, well-publicized stand-off is enough to scare the Leviathan into minding its own business. They also demonstrated what interests to reach out to for help in such a stand-off, a very important factor in organizing any sort of resistance.
My prediction is that now we will see a profound nationwide escalation in instances of nullification of locally unpopular Federal policies; whether it's cannabis prohibition, homosexual marriage, abortion, immigration, or of course everyone's favorite - Obamacare. Various issues will be nullified in various States, of course, and some of it may yet turn violent because among anti-Federalists there are plenty of trigger-happy and paranoid neckbeards. But I believe the Bundys' victory this week will commence the era of open Federalism decline that I have been predicting for a couple of years. The Feds' announcing they will continue the legal fight after they demonstrated force was off the table was as laughable as it was satisfying.
I salute Cliven Bundy, his family, and everyone that stood with them. Their resolve and discipline makes them role-models for all Americans in general, and for seekers of political change in particular. Some of you readers that find yourselves facing off against Federal agents in a similar situation in the next several years; and I encourage you to remember that patience and austerity won this fight for the Bundys without a single shot being fired. The Federal government is a barking dog that has just demonstrated it CAN be too scared to bite; stare it down rather than swinging at it.