An excellent, well-researched op-ed on the current public lands debate . . .
Once again, a provocative armed display of dissatisfaction with a federal land management agency is unfolding—this time, at a remote wildlife refuge in southern Oregon. It’s been happening since 1848, when Mexico ceded the southwest quadrant of the United States after losing the Mexican-American War. Early settlers were primarily Mormons and Confederate Civil War refugees, both fiercely anti-federal government. Those attitudes haven’t changed much.
In the late 1990’s, when I served as Forest Supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada and eastern California, the simmering anti-federal government animosities boiled over dangerously multiple times but failed to garner much notice. Now, we’re seeing a similar boil-over in Oregon. The Nevada-based protesters, despite confusion over history and the exact purpose of their one-sided stand-off, are demanding privatization, to give the land back to “the people.” It sounds compelling, but it’s invented history.
The federal government created the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the focus of this standoff, by usurping the Native American Pauite Nation’s homeland, then, years later, aggregating their abandoned reservation and a used-up cattle ranch bought at a premium during the Depression. The Malheur occupation today sounds a battle-cry of frustration from unwanted proxies who believe they speak for the people of Harney County. Clearly, the interlopers have their facts wrong. But their hair-trigger reaction to a situation reminiscent of their grievances deserves a closer look.
The heart of the matter is that the human dimensions of managing public lands are just as important as the physical and biological dimensions. We Americans love our landscapes. Those who spend a lifetime on the land, like ranchers, connect with it even more deeply…