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SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday the battle with the federal government being waged by Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy over grazing rights has nothing to do with Utah's efforts to control its public lands.
"The Clive Bundy issue is completely separate from any discussion we have on public lands here in Utah," the governor said during the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7.
He said while he understands the frustration people feel over how the federal government manages public lands, "Bundy should not be the face of the public lands issues in Utah."
Herbert also condemned the racist comments Bundy reportedly made to the New York Times that suggested African-Americans were "better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life" rather than living under government subsidies.
"I've heard about the racist comments, which, I think, are based in ignorance and are certainly despicable and offensive if they are, in fact, true," he said, telling reporters after the taping as more facts surface, fewer people will want to champion Bundy.
The governor said at the taping he has told the BLM he "knows there's a problem in Nevada and that problem needs to stay in Nevada and resolve in Nevada. What I don't want is that problem exported to Utah as some kind of relief valve."
The April 2 letter to Bureau of Land Management officials in Washington, D.C. and Reno, Nev., urged that the cattle seized from Bundy for non-payment of federal grazing fees not be sent to Utah to be sold.
The governor also says in the letter he is "troubled by the high level of emotion and furor generated by this issue" and cites threats and public disturbances in Sevier County over the possibility of a cow sale.
"They don't know what to do with them," the governor said of federal authorities. Utah would seek changes in the law so some of the horses could be euthanized to limit their impact on grazing lands, he said.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox was sent to the scene near Bunkerville, Nev., by the governor to relay those concerns directly to BLM officials. Herbert said shifting the site of the controversy would not have resolved the issue.
The federal government released about 350 animals and left the area on April 12, but Bundy and his supporters, including armed supporters, remain on his ranch.
The governor stopped short of saying the controversy has impacted Utah's push for more say in how federally controlled lands are managed. His advice to Washington for dealing with Bundy is to follow the law.
"Anytime you've got Americans lined up on one side and other Americans on the other side with guns pointed at each other, you've got a problem," he said. "I say to all sides of that issue in Nevada, 'Count 10, bite your lip and back down.'"
There is "blame to go around on both sides of this issue that caused it to escalate," the governor said.