From what I read
Bundy was paying range fees till 1993
At that time Blm took over management of the land ...
The BLM was managing the land prior to 1993, as well, with multiple management objectives. Grazing had long been the #1 objective, however, due in no small part to politics, and no large part to ecological science. The BLM reduced the stocking levels for cows in 1993 in response to ecological issues and Bundy objected. Many ranchers took advantage of a chance to get refunds from the BLM on leases and payments for "improvements" to the federally owned land (fencing, watering infrastructure) that they had paid for, if they wanted to stop grazing as a result of the reduced stocking levels.
Unlike his neighbors, Bundy just got mad and refused to comply and stopped paying. Then is when his steady creation of legal fictions began, along with the story that his family had been ranching the land long before the federal government became involved. The problem with that story is the only reason the Bundy ancestors were there is because the federal government acquired the land from Mexico as a result of the war (1848) and opened it for homesteading to Americans. The U.S. had to be involved before the Bundy ancestors or they would have had to be Mexicans (or illegals in Mexico).
The reason only about 10% of what became the state of Nevada is private is because much of the land was too barren to homestead. One department or another of the federal government has managed the land in question since 1848, the BLM being the agency in charge since 1948.
A great irony is that this land was never suited for cattle grazing on an ecologically sustainable basis in the first place. In the late 1800's, a very large portion of federal land under grazing in the Southwest, most of it by large companies owned by wealthy easterners, was in a severely overgrazed condition. A period of droughts completed the near destruction of the ecosystems - as I recollect from a historical analysis out of Northern Arizona University, an estimated 80% of all topsoil was lost to wind and water erosion because of the severely degraded watershed condition caused by cows and sheep.
Take a look at the photos accompanying this story and imagine cows living on that landscape. Bundy has been running between 600 and 900 head in the past ten years on 600,000 acres. Basic math shows that it takes on average 800 acres per cow
to keep them fed, and that's leaving them on the range only part of the year. The standard grazing fee is something like $1.75 per AUM (animal unit month, which means a cow, or cow and calf). If the grazing is only eight months of the year, that's $14 per AUM, or 1-3/4 cents per acre per year. If the Bundy clan had been leasing the land continuously since 1877 (137 years) they would have paid a total of only $2.40 per acre in fees in today's dollars
! That's a right worth defending!! (Unless you are a taxpayer, or someone who cares about environmental health, or the economy, or the law, or intelligence...)
Cows should not be on that landscape, there is no sane reason for it. I suppose that makes the issue all the more suitable for an insane "war" to happen over it.