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Federal land managers confirmed Saturday that they released 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.
The Bureau of Land Management took the action after hundreds of states' rights protesters, including militia members, showed up at corrals outside Mesquite to demand the animals' return to rancher Cliven Bundy.
The bureau issued a brief statement saying the cattle were released "due to escalating tensions." 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 release came only hours after Bureau of Land Management chief Neil Kornze announced an abrupt halt to the weeklong roundup because of safety concerns.
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 ultimately triggered the roundup dates to 1993, when the bureau cited concern for a 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 came after Bundy repeatedly promised to "do whatever it takes" to protect his property and after a string of raucous confrontations between his family members and supporters and federal agents during the weeklong operation.
"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.
Bundy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.