A federal judge’s dismissal of the case against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and family members who were arrested on charges of criminal conspiracy after a 2014 armed standoff with government officials over grazing rights and decades of unpaid fees leaves us wondering what’s next in the battle over federal lands.

Bundy, his two sons and a supporter were charged with threatening a federal officer, conspiracy and carrying and using a firearm. 

Certainly, Judge Gloria M. Navarro was trying to send a clear message in her decision, which precludes the federal government from retrying the case unless prosecutors win in an appeal to overturn it and get a new indictment. In declaring a mistrial and dismissing the case, Navarro was sending a message that federal prosecutors, who she said failed to follow proper evidence procedures, were not exempt from following the rule of law.

But what’s the message to Bundy and his supporters, who participated in an armed assault against Bureau of Land Management officials who were pursuing a court order to round up his cattle for his failure to pay $1 million in grazing fees.

The entire case is steeped in the issue of who really has the rights to Western lands — after all, Bundy told the Associated Press that he doesn’t “recognize the federal government to have authority, jurisdiction, no matter who the president is” —  and we can’t help but wonder if the dismissal will be seen as vindication for ranchers who will be emboldened to snub the U.S. government and its constitutional jurisdiction over federal lands.

Who is left accountable when ranchers refuse to respect federal lands, lands that were designated as such to protect wildlife. Remember, the land where Bundy’s cows were grazing were closed to cattle to protect the endangered tortoise. What’s the message for ranchers who do follow the rules. That it doesn’t pay to pay up?

The clear losers in this case is American’s wild lands and its wildlife. What a shame.