January 30, 2016


The Decline of the Bundy Rebellion : As the Oregon occupation stretches into its 11th day, even local residents who are critical of the federal government are stepping up calls for the militia to leave. (DAVID A. GRAHAM  JAN 12, 2016, The Atlantic)

What did Ammon and Ryan Bundy learn from their father's 2014 standoff in Nevada? Not enough, apparently.

When Cliven Bundy started his showdown with the Bureau of Land Management, he quickly attracted a slew of high-profile backers: Republican Senators Dean Heller, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul; Texas Governor Rick Perry; and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has since become governor. But Bundy's hand was weak--after all, anyone who claims he isn't governed by the Constitution and refuses to pay land fees for decades has a weak claim, to say nothing of the jarring image of armed men holding off law enforcement. Bundy overplayed the weak hand, too, spouting off about "the Negro." His backers fled and the standoff ended--though he has continued to graze his cattle on federal lands and still hasn't paid the fees he owes, which could hold clues for how the Oregon standoff might end.

The Oregon standoff seems to be following a similar, though not identical, arc. At a community meeting Monday night in the town of Burns, residents vented their frustrations with the militia led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy, which has occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. "Our community does not want you here," Mayor Craig LaFollette said. "Leave peacefully and soon." Teenagers spoke of their fear of leaving home. One resident, Dave Brown was blunter: "There's enough crazies in this county to throw your ass out."

At least a few residents praised the militia, but as Brown's quote indicates, local people don't so much disagree with the Bundy gang's fundamental point: They, too, have serious objections to the extent of federal land ownership in the area, and to the way the federal government manages the land it owns. Many of these complaints were aired during Monday night's meeting. But the Bundys have managed to alienate the people who are their natural allies, and whose support they need for political success. In Nevada, Cliven Bundy had the advantage that he was acting in a largely deserted area--just his ranch and open federal land. That's not true in Oregon, where there's an existing community. The militia members say they are staging an occupation, but if the local population doesn't back them, it's really an invasion.

As The New York Times reported this week, the Bundy gang is the more militant, extreme wing of a movement that is widespread among Western conservatives:

Many conservatives ... criticized Mr. Bundy's gun-toting tactics, but their grievances and goals are nearly identical. And the outcry has grown amid a dust storm of rural anger at President Obama's efforts to tighten regulations on fracking, air quality, small streams and other environmental issues that put struggling Western counties at odds with conservation advocates.
Even as the standoff in Oregon was starting, the two men whose case inspired the Bundys, Dwight and Steven Hammond, said that the militia did not speak for them and urged them to go home. But as the standoff has dragged on (it's now in Day 11), the antipathy seems to be building, which is perhaps unsurprising given the impact it's having on Harney County residents' day-to-day lives. Schools reopened Monday for the first time since the standoff began, but many people are still working from home. The militia insists it's no threat to residents, but the presence of many armed people, to say nothing of the prospect of a pitched gun battle, has residents on edge.

Behind the Oregon Standoff, You'll Find Big Questions About Democracy (R. MCGREGGOR CAWLEY, JAN. 8, 2016, NY Times Magazine)

Ryan Payne, an occupation organizer, has portrayed the action as a step toward "returning land to the people." This phrasing implies that "the people" originally "owned" the federal lands -- that the national government has somehow taken those lands away and should return them to the states. It's a recurring claim from disgruntled Westerners, but it's not exactly supported by the history of the federal estate. (Native Americans might find the argument easier to advance.) All the federal lands were acquired by the national government through purchase and treaties; the federal government is very much their original "owner." After all, every state in the union -- with the exception of the original 13 and Texas and Hawaii -- was carved out of that federal estate in the first place.

By the late 1800s, acts of Congress were reconfiguring what was then called the "public domain" by creating national parks, forests and monuments. The remainder of the land was used primarily for livestock grazing -- which, over the years, eventually reached destructive proportions. So in 1929, President Herbert Hoover established a committee to make recommendations for dealing with overgrazing. The committee recommended that the remaining public domain should be given to the states, but with two caveats. First, the federal government would retain ownership of the mineral estate of these lands: Revenue from their ores and fossil fuels would still wind up in the national treasury. Second, any lands not accepted by the states would be placed under active federal management.

The reaction of Western states to this proposal was best summarized by Gov. George H. Dern of Utah. During 1932 congressional committee hearings, Dern granted that Western states appreciated the "compliment of being assured . . . they can be trusted to administer the [lands] more wisely than it can be done from offices in the nation's capital." He then added: "They cannot help wondering why they should be deemed wise enough to administer the surface rights but not wise enough to administer the minerals contained in the public lands." Without the mineral estate and revenue associated with it, the Western states had no interest in accepting surface title to the lands.

In other words, the federal government has attempted to do what Payne, Ammon Bundy and their compatriots ask -- "return the land to the people." Had the Western states accepted the offer, we might have avoided a long train of controversies leading to the Oregon occupation. But when the Western states declined, the second caveat in the Hoover committee recommendations was put into play, and Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act, establishing a permit-and-fee system for regulating grazing on the public lands. All of that was to be administered by the Department of Interior's federal Grazing Service -- an entity that would eventually become part of the Bureau of Land Management.

The grazing act was crafted by the Western livestock industry, but it didn't quite put an end to controversies between stock growers and the federal government. For years, though, those controversies tended to revolve around how much grazing was too much: Stock growers, unsurprisingly, tended to think the land could support a lot more animals than federal managers did. Both sides agreed, though, that grazing was the appropriate use for the land.

That changed in the 1960s, with the first rumblings of what would become the environmental movement. The emphasis on grazing, some advocates said, meant ignoring the recreational and environmental values of public lands. By the next decade, the nation had adopted policies requiring federal agencies to include environmental protection in their management missions. And Congress had passed legislation reclassifying grazing from the dominant use of public lands to just one use among many -- all to be weighed and administered by the land bureau.

Eastern Oregon Ranchers Convicted of Arson Resentenced to Five Years in Prison  (Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Oregon, October 7, 2015)

The jury convicted both of the Hammonds of using fire to destroy federal property for a 2001 arson known as the Hardie-Hammond Fire, located in the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area.  Witnesses at trial, including a relative of the Hammonds, testified the arson occurred shortly after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer on BLM property.  Jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out "Strike Anywhere" matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to "light up the whole country on fire."  One witness testified that he barely escaped the eight to ten foot high flames caused by the arson.  The fire consumed 139 acres of public land and destroyed all evidence of the game violations.  After committing the arson, Steven Hammond called the BLM office in Burns, Oregon and claimed the fire was started on Hammond property to burn off invasive species and had inadvertently burned onto public lands.  Dwight and Steven Hammond told one of their relatives to keep his mouth shut and that nobody needed to know about the fire.

The jury also convicted Steven Hammond of using fire to destroy federal property regarding a 2006 arson known as the Krumbo Butte Fire located in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Steen Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area.  An August lightning storm started numerous fires and a burn ban was in effect while BLM firefighters fought those fires.  Despite the ban, without permission or notification to BLM, Steven Hammond started several "back fires" in an attempt save the ranch's winter feed.  The fires burned onto public land and were seen by BLM firefighters camped nearby.  The firefighters took steps to ensure their safety and reported the arsons.

Posted by at January 30, 2016 8:31 AM