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U.S. Agency Backs Down In Standoff With Cattle Rancher

Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who refuses to pay grazing fees for the use of federally protected land, seems to have won at least a reprieve in his fight against the Bureau of Land Management. The agency has reportedly rounded up hundreds of Bundy's cows and impounded them.

The BLM announced Saturday that it will stop its operation targeting Bundy's cattle, citing safety concerns. But officials maintain that the rancher still owes more than $1 million in unpaid fees that date back more than 20 years.

"The BLM will continue to work to resolve the matter administratively and judicially," the agency said in a news release issued Saturday.

The agency's partial withdrawal comes as a heated debate continues over Bundy's use of the land — and over the BLM's decision to take the cattle. The rancher and his family say the government went too far in its efforts; last week, he promised a "range war" with the agency over the situation.

"People are getting tired of the federal government having unlimited power," Bundy's wife, Carol Bundy later told ABC News.

One of Bundy's sons was arrested the day after the roundup began in a rural area about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas on April 5; another son was reportedly tased during a clash with police Wednesday.

The Bundy family has invited supporters to come protest in favor of personal freedoms, at least 100, and possibly far more, have reportedly responded to the call.

"The incident prompted a visit from Operation Mutual Aid — a national militia with members from California to Missouri," reports the Las Vegas Sun. "The militiamen said they set up a camp just in case things got out of hand again."

The BLM's decision to cease its roundup could be a sign of a pending deal with the Bundy family, reports KLAS-TV in Las Vegas:

"According to sources, the BLM wants to proceed with the sale of the cattle already gathered during the roundup but is reportedly willing to share the revenue from the sale with Bundy.

"[Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie] has been negotiating with Bundy behind the scenes for months reached a tentative agreement Friday night, though Bundy insisted the sheriff come to his ranch to finalize the arrangement face-to-face."

Federal officials said today that the escalating tensions in the area had created a situation that could threaten public safety.

"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," Bureau of Land Management director Neil Kornze said in a news release today.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.