Western stockmen and their supporters occupied the Malheur Wildlife Refuge near Burns Oregon for several weeks. Apparently four remain in the refuge today. I hope they are permitted to leave peacefully, but I doubt they will be allowed to leave without being arrested or killed. One, Mr. LaVoy Finicum, was killed at a roadblock on his way to a meeting at John Day. He said he would rather die than be arrested, and the LEO’s at the roadblock accommodated him.
The protesters are not new. Many of the Western men present have been in similar protests before. Until now, they didn’t involve the loss of life. Waco and Ruby Ridge are entirely different events, having nothing to do with the issues at Burns, which are about federal management of grazing leases and allotments. The Bundy sons were present with their father, Cliven Bundy, when he confronted the feds in Nevada. He refused to pay grazing fees for his cattle on federal lands, so they took them. He was not prosecuted, at least not yet, and his sons and others were emboldened by the pass the feds gave him. So, unfortunately, were many others who are not from the area, are not ranchers, have an agenda different from the Bundy’s, and who mostly swiftly disappeared after the shooting of Mr. Finicum.
The truly sad part is this has all been done before, and the outcome of such protests is predictable. One has only to look at the Diamond Bar Ranch case, about which I have written before, (link below the fold) to find out that the federal government owns the majority of the West, that it controls the use of lands which it owns, and those who don’t comply will be removed – peacefully or otherwise – but removed. The sad story of the Laney’s is repeated more than 15 years later, as a cattleman without cattle is lost, and the larger question of who owns and controls federal lands has been legally settled. It is the United States government, right or wrong.
The United States Supreme Court (and other federal courts) is tasked with the job of interpreting the Constitution. Not the Bundy’s, the militia, the posse comitatus, your average cowboy, or you or me. We can disagree with any interpretation, and have our own opinions, but at the end of the day whatever the SCOTUS says is the law of the land. Living in a democracy requires one to live with rules, regulations, laws and edicts which one does not like. One is always free to leave and live elsewhere, but living here requires adherence to the law of the land whether one likes it or not. Protest is protected if properly done, opposing views can still be aired, we are still free to disagree with each other as we so often do, but we are not free to take action which is contrary to the law of the land. We are a nation of laws. Most of us have no problem with that, unless we get caught doing something illegal.
So, the occupation at Malheur is about over. Feds one, protesters jail or dead. Such a shame. The matter of federal control of federal lands must be litigated each time issues arise. Past attempts to apply eminent domain principles to federal grazing lands have been predictably unsuccessful. That does not mean, however, that the federal government is wholly right and the Western protesters wholly wrong. There is a great deal of improvement to be made by agents of the BLM, USFS, USF&WS and other regulatory bodies, and the stockmen have issues which should be carefully listened to and remedied. But the ownership of those lands, and the grazing fees imposed upon them, are here to stay, and the idea that ranchers somehow acquire title to those lands by having used them for years or generations is never going to fly. Read the opinions in the Diamond Bar case.
The federal government owns about 50% of Western states’ lands. They are everywhere. Our national parks comprise much of this, but the vast majority is land not totally suitable to many endeavors other than cattle raising. Of .course natural resources and wildlife must be protected, and cattlemen must learn to operate in ways which protect those resources/wildlife, but a systemic attack through the legal system is the only way anything will be accomplished which does not turn out as has the Malheur protest. I mourn the life which was lost. All lives are important. As importantly, I mourn the tragedy which has befallen the families of Harney County and elsewhere, including the families of the protesters, and I fervently wish the remaining occupiers to leave peacefully. There may be arrests, but arrest trumps death where I live.
Whichever side you are on, I wish you well, and I hope you will attempt to redress your grievances in the court system. That’s what the Constitution requires.
Find a report of the Diamond Bar case Here