Harried … with Children

Public lands are an essential part of the freedom that makes the West the last best place to live

By Rob Breeding

The Bundy Clan is at it again. Having watched father Cliven flout the law in Nevada where he refuses to pay the fees he owes all of us for grazing cattle on “our” land, sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy are now holed up on a wildlife refuge in Oregon. There they are demanding, as terms to end their occupation, that a couple of ranchers who are in jail for arson be released, and that their buddies get to take ownership of the refuge.

This is just the wacky, extremist spearpoint of the movement to get all public lands transferred into private hands. It’s all around us, whether its wealthy out-of-staters hanging “No Trespassing” signs on Montana rivers, or crazed zealots in state legislatures demanding federal lands be transferred to the states (so that they can then be sold to their cronies), or a group of armed thugs who’s misreading of the constitution leads them to believe they can do whatever they want with the public’s property.

These lands are managed for our benefit. They provide open space for us to hunt, fish, bird watch, hike, graze cattle and log, to name just a few of the multiple uses federal lands support. But multiple use isn’t enough for the Bundys and the other usurpers of our public property rights.

They want it all and they want it right now. The public servants who manage these lands on our behalf are at best a nuisance for the Bundys and their ilk. More dangerously, in their fevered minds these public servants are the enemy, traitors in their twisted, selfish interpretation of the constitution.

None of this is to say that the Bureau of Land Management — or any of our state or federal agencies for that matter — is perfect. Like the Bundys, I’ve had my complaints with the BLM over the years. My problem, however, is that the agency has been too lax with consumptive users. I like to eat beef and I think cattle grazing is a perfectly legitimate activity on lands designated for multiple use, but the financial imperatives of the private business interests of ranchers can lead to problems.

We’ve come a long way from the free range era and there are plenty of land stewards running livestock these days, but sometimes the interests of ranching conflicts with the interests of other users. I’m thinking primarily of those times when grazing harms the habitat requirements of wildlife.

There are plenty of options for those of us who disagree with how the range is being managed. For some there are too many options. As a result, we now have a law on the books in Wyoming that makes it illegal for folks to collect and share data on environmental conditions on public land. It is a law that is almost certainly unconstitutional and I expect it to be rejected by the courts. The point remains, there is a system for redress of grievances in this country that does not require the threat of violence.

The problem for folks like the armed occupiers in Oregon is that they lost through those legitimate means, so these poor, beleaguered “constitutionalists” made up a version of the law that suits their fancy, and now threaten violence against anyone who disagrees.

Public lands — including the besieged Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon — are an essential part of the freedom that makes the West the last best place to live. But that freedom is under broad assault from those who are infuriated by the notion that we riffraff are able to hunt or fish or just commune with nature while wandering public lands.

The crybaby Bundys see that as a threat to their desire to do anything they dang well please with land that doesn’t belong to them.

I am terrified for what that means for our republic if they get away with it.