DENVER—As the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge draws to a close, the Center for Western Priorities released the following statement from Executive Director Jennifer Rokala:
“For the last few years, the campaign to seize and sell our American lands has been hiding under the guise of politicians in suits and ties. But the armed militants at the Malheur refuge have exposed it for what it truly is: a fringe movement driven by radical anti-government extremists who will stop at virtually nothing to steal our public lands. The occupiers have given the cause a black eye and from now on, anyone who attempts to seize or sell our American lands will be tarnished with the brand of Ammon and Cliven Bundy.”
“While any loss of life is deeply regrettable, we applaud federal, state, and local law enforcement for their efforts to minimize violence in diffusing what was an incredibly dangerous situation. As the situation winds down, we’re hopeful that the last four militants will leave peacefully so that the dedicated women and men who care for the wildlife refuge on behalf of the American people can get back to work.”
As the criminal justice system works to hold the leaders of the refuge takeover accountable, here are key facts for reporters following the story:
1) The land seizure movement is not over
While Ammon Bundy and the militants who took the refuge are behind bars, the political leaders of the broader land seizure movement continue to espouse the extremist agenda that led Bundy and his armed compatriots to Oregon in the first place:
The American Lands Council, the leading voice of the Bundy land seizure agenda, is now headed up by Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder, who has ties to the Militia of Montana, which is run by white supremacists.
Utah State Representative Ken Ivory, the outgoing ALC president, is now working for a nonprofit called Federalism in Action, formerly known as State Budget Solutions, a group supported by the Koch brothers. One of its key programs is taking over American lands.
Utah State Representative Mike Noel, the primary sponsor of American Lands Council bills in the Utah legislature, was described by the Salt Lake Tribune as a “close friend” of Shawna Cox, one of the co-conspirators charged in the refuge takeover.
Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, who swore the oath of the Oath Keepers militia, provided support to the Bundy militants in Oregon by sending food to the wildlife refuge, then spread false accusations about the circumstances leading to the death of LaVoy Finicum. Last year, a bill sponsored by Fiore to turn Nevada’s public lands over to the state was publicly supported by the Bundy family.
In 2015, a total of 37 land seizure bills were introduced in 11 state legislatures. Just one month into 2016, there are already bills in state legislatures from Arizona to Alaska and in Congress that attempt to turn the Bundy land seizure agenda into law.
2) The Bundys’ perceived grievances are not shared by most Westerners
Despite the Bundy family’s attempt to recruit more ranchers to stop paying grazing fees to taxpayers, the reality is that almost all of the 16,000 ranchers on national lands are responsible business owners who pay their grazing fees.
What’s more, public opinion research shows that voters across the West are strongly opposed to efforts to turn American lands over to the states or private owners and approve of the job agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service do in managing those lands.
The Bundy occupation has only served as a wakeup call to Americans who value their public lands. As the Seattle Times editorialized, the standoff has “outraged and mobilized the vast majority of Westerners who cherish and celebrate America’s public lands.”
3) Disputes over land management will continue to be solved in collaborative ways
One of the biggest ironies of the Bundy land seizure is that Harney County is home to one of the best examples of collaborative land management, the High Desert Partnership. Refuge managers began working with the group in 2008, leading to a landmark 15-year plan that brought together ranchers, conservation groups, and the Burns Paiute tribe, giving local stakeholders control over the day-to-day decision-making in and around the refuge.
This success story is a model for rural communities across the nation, demonstrating how listening, collaboration, and partnership can succeed where vitriol and threats fail.
4) The Bundys don’t have a legal leg to stand on
The Bundys plan to use Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution as part of their legal strategy, which they misread as putting “limits on federal property ownership.”
Fortunately, this issue has already been thoroughly litigated; in Kleppe v. New Mexico, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the property clause of the Constitution grants Congress and the U.S. government “complete power” over national public lands.
If Ammon Bundy wanted a constructive conversation about the Constitution and the benefits of American public lands, stealing a bird sanctuary and leading a dangerous armed confrontation was certainly not the way to do it.