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BLM sets Bundy's 400 cattle free

With dozens of Cliven Bundy supporters on the hills, cattle belogning to the rancher are freed from a Bureau of Land Management compound next to Interstate 15 about 7 miles west of Mesquite. Dozens of armed protesters demanded the release of the cattle after the BLM announced early Saturday that is was ending its week-long effort to roundup about 900 head of cattle owned by the rancher. (Vicki Gonzalez)
With dozens of Cliven Bundy supporters on the hills, cattle belogning to the rancher are freed from a Bureau of Land Management compound next to Interstate 15 about 7 miles west of Mesquite. Dozens of armed protesters demanded the release of the cattle after the BLM announced early Saturday that is was ending its week-long effort to roundup about 900 head of cattle owned by the rancher. (Vicki Gonzalez)
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Updated: 4/14 1:39 pm
MESQUITE (KSNV MyNews3.com) -- Nearly 400 head of cattle owned by Cliven Bundy were set free Saturday afternoon from their enclosure just a few miles west of Mesquite.

Several hundred Bundy backers converged on Bureau of Land Management holding pens all Saturday afternoon. Many of them were armed.

As police tried to keep Interstate 15 open for several hours, the crowd grew. Metro SWAT teams and other law enforcement agencies were involved to keep the peace and to keep the road open.

Eventually, the BLM freed the cattle shortly before 3 p.m. The animals headed south back along the Virgin River.

For the past seven days cattle had been herded north by contract cowboys on horseback and using two helicopters.

The BLM was taking action after Bundy refused to follow two federal court orders for him to remove the cattle for failing to pay grazing fees for the past 20 years.

As they stood on a hill overlooking Interstate 15, two armed protesters told News 3 that they were there to protect the Constitution.

Reporter Vicki Gonzalez said all cattle were free as of 3:05 p.m.

Earlier in the afternoon, about 2 p.m., there was a report that some 25 BLM Rangers were trapped in the Holiday Inn Express by members of a militia who were using their trucks to block the motel. A caller said it was the second time it had happened this week.

Law enforcement agencies were heading to the motel shortly afterward, based on police radio calls.

On Saturday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford held a meeting with the BLM and local elected officials. Among the attendees (either by phone or in person) were Mesquite Mayor Andy Weir, Mesquite City Manager Ted Barron, State Senator Pete Goicoechea, Assemblyman James Oscarson, Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins, Moapa Valley Town Board Chair Gene Houston, Moapa Valley Water District Board Member Lindsey Dalley, BLM District Manager Tim Smith, BLM State Director Amy Lueders, a representative from the U.S. National Park Service, and a representative from State Senator Joe Hardy's office.

Horsford and other participants agreed that all parties involved must pursue a plan to defuse the situation. Participants at the meeting urged the BLM to communicate to the local community details regarding the dismantling of the operation. They also stressed that providing updated information about the halting of the roundup could help to de-escalate the situation. BLM officials agreed to provide information regarding the logistics of demobilization to prevent the spread of any potential misinformation regarding its withdrawal from the area.

Horsford further urged that local, state and federal officials ensure cooperation so that BLM assets can be safely removed without any further disruption. BLM officials discussed demobilizing the operation as quickly and safely as possible, and added that the BLM requires help from local officials to create a safe environment for all involved.

Horsford and other members of the discussion requested that, moving forward, the BLM and Department of Interior again meet with a group of local stakeholders as their operation ends. In addition, meeting participants agreed that there should be a review of First Amendment concerns, grazing rights and public lands issues in this particular situation to ensure that all rights of residents affected are protected in the future. This will require involving county and state officials in creating a better line of communication between federal agencies and local elected officials.

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