Reality Check on Public Lands Ranching: A reaction to the rhetoric of the Bundy militia in Oregon

By On January 4, 2016

Boise, ID – Western Watersheds Project is disappointed that the government’s acquiescence to ongoing law-breaking on public lands across the West has led to the armed occupation of one of America’s premier bird sanctuaries. This weekend’s militia takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is another battle in the “War on the West” that extractive industries have been waging for 150 years.

The occupying militia is led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy, sons of Cliven Bundy, the notorious rancher who has refused to pay his fees for years and continues to illegally trample fragile desert tortoise habitat with his trespassing cows. The militia initially claimed the occupation was to support local ranchers and convicted arsonists Dwight and Steven Hammond, although the Hammond family has distanced itself from the Bundys’ recent activities. The Bundy group has moved onto generally railing against federal land ownership and legal limits on environmentally destructive activities like logging and ranching.

But what Ammon Bundy considers tyrannical treatment of grazing permittees is actually a generous welfare program: between 1995 and 2012, Hammond Ranches, Inc. received $295,471 in federal payouts. There is enormous subsidization of public lands livestock grazing. While the going rate for grazing a cow and a calf on private land for a month in Oregon is $17, the equivalent fee on federal public lands is only $1.69.[1] This artificially low fee creates a national deficit of at least $12 billion dollars every decade– hardly a sign that the federal agencies are trying to put ranchers out of business.

“The ongoing occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon is a reaction to the perceived mistreatment of public lands livestock operators and other extractive users of American’s wild spaces. This perception is inaccurate, considering the systemic support and financial subsidies that our government gives these industries despite the adverse ecological impacts and profound debt they create,” said Travis Bruner, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project, an advocacy group dedicated to ending public lands livestock grazing.

In fact, even the Malheur Wildlife Refuge is controversially open to livestock grazing use, despite the Refuge system’s mandate to protect wildlife habitat. The spectacular wetland complex is a mecca for birdwatchers due to its role as a major migratory bird stopover. Thousands of Americans visit the refuge each year to enjoy the unique species that frequent the Pacific flyway, pouring over $1.9 million into the local economy annually.[2] When Ammon Bundy promotes his agenda of using the resource, he’s overlooking the many Americans who “use the resource” to enjoy quiet recreation like bird-watching.

Widespread livestock grazing occurs on nearly 220 million acres of public land in the western states, and this is a leading cause of soil loss, species endangerment, invasive species infestations, and predator killing. Only 22,000 ranchers have the privilege of using federal lands for their operations, a business opportunity mistakenly referred to as a “right” by those that would seek to establish it as such. The courts have affirmed that there are no “grazing rights,” and the Bundys’ use of the term does not make it so.

“There are no grazing rights,” said Bruner, “but there are lots of grazing ‘wrongs.’ The federal agencies failure to rein in the worst abusers of public lands livestock allotments has emboldened people like the Bundy brothers and others across the West to take land management into their own hands. It’s time to stop caving in to their demands and manage wildlife habitat in the true public interest.”


Photos of the Malheur National Wildlife


3 thoughts on “Reality Check on Public Lands Ranching: A reaction to the rhetoric of the Bundy militia in Oregon

  1. There could be a couple of good things coming out of this “occupation:”
    Now, many more people are aware of Public Lands Ranching, and who is involved in this exploitation: We have spoiled, gun-toting yahoos, with their hunting/military garb, taking over more public land to prove that it is “theirs”–just like they believe that all those subsidized grazing allotments everywhere over the West, are also their “private property.” There once was a “anti-public lands grazing movement,” but it did not last because too many environmental/wildlife groups just got too wish-washy and decided they could “collaborate” with this destroyers of the land.

    Perhaps, now, we can re-start this effort, with a strong, uncompromising approach: we could start with these lawless folk at Malheur Refuge, by taking them at their word & action when they burned their public lands permits! All the public lands permits that this characters had been given by the Feds, SHOULD NOW BE TERMINATED, including the rancher from Southern NM, who recently went up there to join them.
    How about it? Let’s start by getting having the government “retire” those permits–immediately, and forever!

    The second good thing to come out of this, is that more people now realize just how many so-called “Refuges” are hunted and trapped, along with the grazing. Over half of National Wildlife Refuges allow hunting, including Mulheur.

    How can these be called “Wildlife Refuges” when animals have little or no peace from hunters? A Refuge should be exactly that. A Refuge.
    It is time for us to get busy and work on Banning Hunting & trapping) on All Wildlife Refuges–let the wildlife on these areas have some peace for a change. If they cannot find it on a wildlife refuge–where in the hell than they get it?

    This should keep us very busy, but just doing these two projects will give wildlife, particularly in The West, a fighting chance. These human activities on places allegedly set aside for wild animals, must be banned & they must become True Refuges.

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