The federal Bureau of Land Management is taking safety precautions and Las Vegas police are investigating after gunshots were fired near a group of contract employees on public land in southern Nevada where rancher and states' rights advocate Cliven Bundy's cattle continue to roam.
Three researchers from the Reno-based nonprofit Great Basin Institute were monitoring water seeps and springs in the remote Gold Butte area, about 100 miles northeast of Las Vegas, on June 5 when they were approached by two men who asked what they were doing, BLM officials said.
The employees, who were working under a bureau contract, left after six shots were fired later that night near their camp in the same area that's being considered for federal protection as a national conservation area.
No injuries were reported.
"The situation is under investigation and the BLM is taking appropriate safety precautions to ensure the safety of its employees and contractors," the agency said in a statement.
Las Vegas police spokesman Larry Hadfield confirmed Friday the "incident remains under investigation" by his department's detectives but said he "can provide no other details."
BLM spokesman Rudy Evenson declined to elaborate or comment on whether the agency has told its employees and contractors to stay out of the area. The agency would not comment beyond the statement "given the sensitivity in southern Nevada" over public lands in the Gold Butte area, he added.
In April 2014, a tense standoff between Bundy and the BLM occurred after a federal judge authorized the agency to remove his cattle from public rangeland. Bundy, who does not recognize the authority of the federal government, stopped paying grazing fees over 20 years ago and owes more than $1 million.
The confrontation pitted federal officers against heavily armed states' rights advocates who had converged on the Bundy ranch to halt the roundup of his cattle. The BLM backed off, citing safety concerns. It allowed Bundy supporters to release 380 cattle from pens that had been collected.
Bundy did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
Jerry Keir, executive director of the Great Basin Institute, said the researchers were scheduled to spend a week in the area but were told by the BLM not to return after the incident occurred on their first day there.
The two men told the trio that they were there to fix a leak in a water trough. But the researchers were unable to see the shooter because the shots were fired at night from roughly 1,600 feet away, he added.
Asked whether he thinks the shots were meant to intimidate them, Keir replied, "That's total speculation. It could have been three kids out shooting cans. There's no way to assign specific individuals to the incident."
The FBI on Friday would neither confirm nor deny it's investigating the case. The FBI also declined comment on its investigation into last year's standoff involving Bundy.
Earlier this year, the BLM issued a statement saying it "remains resolute" in its goal to resolve the Bundy dispute through the legal system.