Federal land managers abruptly ended the roundup of cattle on public land in southern Nevada owned by a rancher who has refused to recognize their authority, citing a "serious concern" for the safety of employees and the public.
Bureau of Land Management chief Neil Kornze made the announcement Saturday morning as hundreds of people, including militia members, gathered near the roundup area to protest the removal of hundreds of Cliven Bundy's cattle.
The bureau also will release 100 of the seized cattle under a deal announced after protesters, some of them armed with handguns and rifles, headed for a corral outside Mesquite in an attempt to free all of the seized cattle, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. The bureau did not immediately return calls to The Associated Press.
The fight between Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management has widened into a debate about states' rights and federal land-use policy. 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 federal agents and his family members and supporters 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.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a statement praising the agency for its willingness to listen to the state's concerns. He earlier criticized the agency for creating "an atmosphere of intimidation" and trying to confine protesters to a fenced-in "First Amendment area" well away from the sprawling roundup area.