Just yesterday the FBI was able to complete its evidence gathering and clearing of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, returning the refuge back to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and freeing the seventeen refuge employees to go back to work. So far the cost of the Malheur NWR occupation is estimated at over $3.3 million1. Below photo of Great Horned Owls at Malheur NWR fire lookout tower, photo by Terry & Kay Steele, nature photographers.
If you haven’t been paying attention to this refuge occupation you should be. It began on January 2nd and ended on February 11th with the last four holdouts surrendering to the FBI. Those holdouts were convinced by Michele Fiore, a Republican Assemblywoman from Nevada, to turn themselves in. Fiore is a longtime ally of the Cliven Bundy clan, even after he threatened the lives of several Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employees2.
What has been the Republican response to this illegal occupation? Here’s a video of Ted Cruz agreeing with the ultra right-wing crazies and promising to grant them their wish.
Incidents like this one, led by far-right militant, anti-government extremists, should be a concern of all Americans, especially birders, hunters, environmentalists, conservationists, and anyone else concerned with keeping public lands public. The goals of these national right wing groups seek the handover of federal land to private ownership. This concern of losing our public lands is actually something birders and hunters have in common. This video was published by Backcountry Hunters & Anglers during the refuge occupation.
Likewise, birders rallied against the occupation in several protests around the state on January 19th, sponsored by the Audubon Society of Portland.
To get to my original question of whether there have been any positive aspects of the Malheur NWR occupation, I can only think of one. Hopefully this tragedy has alerted the American people to the possibility of losing access to our public lands. The lands that wise men from Theodore Roosevelt to President Obama have set aside, not only for Americans, but all people on Earth to enjoy. These are OUR public lands.
We need to be wary of politicians like Republican Utah State Representative Ken Ivory who is also co-founder of an organization called the American Lands Council, created to advocate and lobby for the transfer of federal lands to states. Ken Ivory is not the only politician trying to advance this agenda. There are senators and congressmen voting to help states sell off public lands.
To quote Hal Herring, in his essay “Can we make sense of the Malheur mess?”
Buyers, in a world packed and competitive beyond the imaginations of those who set aside these unclaimed and abandoned lands as forest reserves and public grazing lands in the early 1900s, are now everywhere, planet-wide. As Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory, when he was president of the American Lands Council, famously said of privatizing federal lands, “It’s like having your hands on the lever of a modern-day Louisiana Purchase.”
When that lever is pulled, and it will be, unless a majority of Americans know enough about what is at stake to oppose it, we will live through the transformation of our country. Federal water rights that underpin entire agricultural economies, and that are critical to some of the last family farms and ranches in America, will be in play. Few Americans, even those in the cities of the east who know nothing about these lands, will be untouched in some way by the transformation. Once the precedent for divesting federal lands is well-set, the eastern public lands, most of them far more valuable than those in the West, will go on the international auction block. The unique American experiment in balancing the public freedom and good with private interests will be forever shattered, while a new kind of inequality soars, not just inequality of economics and economic opportunity, but of life experience, the chance to experience liberty itself. The understanding that we all share something valuable in common – the vast American landscape, yawning to all horizons and breathtakingly beautiful – will be further broken.
We cannot allow this to happen. Hopefully this unsuccessful occupation of Malheur NWR along with the arrest of 25 perpetrators, including the Bundy gang, will discourage some of the gun-toting, ultra right-wing anti-government types from trying to take away our public lands, but don’t be too sure.
One thing all of us who care about wildlife and conservation of public lands can do is get out and VOTE!
Links to other sources of information on this important subject:
Angry Birders, The War for America’s Public Lands Rages On, National Public Radio (NPR) Stories, Malheur Occupation Is Over, But the War for America’s Public Lands Rages On, Public Land Grabs Move from States to Congress, House Republicans seek to open up national forests to mining and logging