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With southeast Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy behind bars as he and his four sons await trial, the Bureau of Land Management announced Friday that it plans to resume work in the Gold Butte region for the first time since an armed standoff near Bundy's Bunkerville ranch in spring 2014.
The BLM said in a news release Friday that "[w]ith the support of the community, BLM officials have determined that the conditions are now right to resume work. BLM archaeologists, law enforcement officers and local agency leadership have all visited the area over the past month."
The release says BLM Director Neil Kornze was among a group that visited the popular Whitney Pockets area on the eastern edge of Gold Butte next to Virgin Mountain where some of Gold Butte's distinctive red sandstone formations had been vandalized and a felled Joshua tree had caught the attention of Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, who shared a photo on the Senate floor. The group saw evidence of overgrazing and trampling by cattle, the release said.
Reid has called for President Barack Obama to use his executive powers to designate the Gold Butte area a national monument.
Bundy's 1,000-odd cattle have been trespassing throughout hundreds of thousands of acres since he refused to abide by federal administration in 1993. When the BLM gathered about 400 of his cattle at an impound site in April 2014, Bundy and hundreds of protesters some of them armed demanded that the cattle be returned. The BLM stood down.
Bundy was arrested for his role in that standoff in Portland, Ore., this February, when he flew to visit sons Ammon and Ryan, who are indicted for their participation in a 41-day standoff at a federal wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon.
All told, three dozen people have been indicted by the federal government in relation to the standoffs.
In Cliven Bundy's absence, Bundy Ranch has been managed by his wife, Carol, with the assistance of his 18-year-old son, Arden.
The BLM news release said that among its plans for the Gold Butte region are to assess damage to cultural heritage sites, partner with the National Park Service to make repairs to communications infrastructure, coordinate with Clark County for road maintenance and establish a system to help area visitors better map their location and destinations.
Future projects will target the spread of noxious weeds and the threat of wildfire, the release said.
The release makes no mention of a repeat attempt to gather Bundy's trespassing cattle. Previously, Utah companies have won bids for both the gather and sale, but the BLM's southern Nevada office reiterated last month that it had no active plans or requests for proposals at that time. As of Friday afternoon, the office had yet to return another request for comment.
Greta Anderson deputy director of the Western Watersheds Project, one of nine conservationist groups that in May sent a letter to Kornze urging the removal of Bundy's cattle said that while Friday's release is good news, the BLM remains "20 years late" in removing cattle that endanger the habitat of the desert tortoise.
"There's still a really important piece of making Gold Butte ecologically healthy again," Anderson said.
Members of the Bundy family were not immediately available for comment Friday, and a BLM spokesman said Kornze would not be available for further comment.