The Oregon standoff: Understand federal land issues
The standoff between Bundy and county, state, and federal officials on the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon has garnered front page status over the past few weeks. The Malheur Refuge is about 100 miles southwest of our home near Vale, Oregon so we probably hear even more about it. But, even more important, while water and Federal land policy issues in eastern Oregon are always on the front burner, recently, they have both become even more contentious.
When Ammon Bundy and his crew arrived at the refuge in Harney County, the ink wasn’t even dry on new Federal regulations to protect sage grouse habitat. And, the debate over designating a monument of over 2 million acres of Malheur County was well underway. These are high priority issues to not only ranchers and mining companies but also to each of the 25,000 residents in this sprawling and mostly unpopulated high desert region of eastern Oregon. The prospects of “protecting” this high desert landscape by creating a monument has become a necessary cause of environmentalists on the other side of the state. After all, how can they possibly trust the families who have made a living on the land for generations to protect it? That can only be accomplished with designation of a monument at the swoop of the President’s pen. As the proponents pointed out at a meeting, nothing will change with regard to current use. Imagine that!
Over the past 30 plus years, I have completed numerous consulting projects concerning the economics of public land use policies, regulations, and administrative rules. Most of these concern decisions by the Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Forest Service regarding federal grazing permits while others concerned wild horses, sage grouse habitat, or controversy between competing use of Federal land’s resources. One common theme across all of these projects is the complexity of resource issues in the Western U.S. Consequently, there is a definite need to present the data and information to a broad audience so they can grasp not only the issues but also the deep culture of the people living in states largely comprised of federal land. It’s about economics and livelihoods, yet those who want to “lock” these lands out of production ignore both.
While those who have forcefully taken over the Malheur Wildlife may feel strongly about their cause, they do a disservice to the ranchers who lease and graze BLM administered lands in the West by confusing the issues and potentially furthering the misunderstanding. Maintaining grazing leases on Federal land can be both costly and time consuming when it involves doing battle in a court room with the government bureaucracy and environmentalists. But, it also requires the patience to tell the rancher’s story. Ammon Bundy is not doing a good job of that.