This week is National Wildlife Refuge Week, a time to celebrate these wild and beautiful public lands. The stated mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) is to conserve land and water for the sake of “biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health.” These spaces are intended as sanctuaries where wildlife can thrive and all Americans can enjoy our great outdoors. Shockingly, however, more than half of all refuges allow the use of inhumane and dangerous traps. This is a clear violation of the NWRS’ mission and is a threat to the safety of wildlife, humans, and pets.
The Refuge from Cruel Trapping Act, sponsored by Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) in the House and just reintroduced by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) in the Senate, would prohibit the possession or use of body-gripping traps within the NWRS. This bill would ensure that management of these protected lands aligns with the intent behind their preservation.
Body-gripping traps—such as snares, Conibear traps, and steel-jaw leghold traps—are inhumane and inherently nonselective, meaning they indiscriminately injure and kill nontarget animals, including endangered and threatened species and even pets. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, nontarget species trapped on refuges include river otters, rabbits, domestic dogs and cats, and birds.
Predators can kill more than 80 percent of the moose and caribou that die during an average year, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
By DAN JOLING
Published on April 4, 2017
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The state of Alaska’s toolkit for increasing moose and caribou numbers includes killing wolf pups in dens, shooting wolf packs from helicopters and adopting liberal hunting regulations that allow sportsmen to shoot grizzlies over bait.
But when state officials wanted to extend “predator control” to federal wildlife refuges, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said no. And after years of saying no, the agency late last year adopted a rule to make the denial permanent.
Alaska’s elected officials called that an outrage and an infringement on state rights. The dispute reached the White House.
President Donald Trump on Monday signed a resolution approved by the U.S. House and Senate to revoke a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule banning most predator control on Alaska refuges. Alaska’s lone U.S. representative, Republican Don Young, says Alaska was promised it could manage game animals. Refuge overseers have ignored the law, he said.
“Some of you will say, ‘Oh, we have to protect the wolf puppies,’” Young told colleagues on the floor of the House. “That’s not what it’s about. It’s about the law.”
Congress explicitly gave Alaska authority to manage wildlife in the Alaska Statehood Act and two more laws, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, said after voting to revoke the rule.
Alaska’s 16 national wildlife refuges cover about 120,000 square miles, an area slightly smaller than the state of New Mexico. Residents of rural villages living a subsistence lifestyle rely on refuges as hunting grounds. So do urban sportsmen.
Critics contend Alaska officials use unsportsmanlike techniques that would have horrified Teddy Roosevelt, creator of the first federal refuge, to boost moose and caribou numbers. Sportsmanship, however, is not a consideration, according to state authorities, when it comes to surgically removing certain numbers of predators to benefit prey populations.
Predators can kill more than 80 percent of the moose and caribou that die during an average year, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Alaska’s mandate for killing predators comes from a law passed by the state Legislature recognizing that certain moose, caribou, and deer populations are especially important human food sources. When those populations drop too low, the Alaska Board of Game, which regulates hunting and trapping, can authorize “intensive management.”
The focus once was almost totally wolves. Since 1993, the state has killed hundreds along with lesser numbers of black and grizzly bears that prey on caribou or moose calves.
Federal wildlife refuges operate under a different mandate. For example, the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, where the state in 2010 sought to kill wolves from helicopters to protect caribou on Unimak Island, was created by Congress with the mission of conserving animal populations and habitats “in their natural biodiversity.”
Geoff Haskett, former Alaska regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency adopted the rule for Alaska refuges after repeatedly fending off state attempts to extend predator control in direct conflict with refuge purposes. Some attempts up in court. For two years, he said, the state authorized an overharvest by hunters of grizzly bears on the Kenai Peninsula. The agency closed the Kenai Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge in response.
“Brown bear biologists from both the state side and the federal side had real concerns about the amount of unlimited harvest and the amount of females that would be taken by what was proposed by the state,” Haskett said.
Haskett left the agency and is now acting director of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. Even though President Trump signed the congressional resolution, Haskett believes it will not give the state of Alaska carte blanche to begin predator control on federal refuges.
“It doesn’t change the laws and authorities and existing regulations that the service already has,” Haskett said. “It’s really back to square one.”
Ken Marsh, spokesman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, agreed. Without a blanket rule, federal refuge managers likely will consider predator control requests on a case-by-case basis, he said, under provisions of federal environmental law.
The 16 national wildlife refuges in Alaska span the state from the remote Arctic on the northern edge to the volcanic Aleutian islands southwest of Anchorage. Across the refuges’ nearly 77 million acres, animal diversity abounds — ice worms and seabirds, black bears and grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou, predators and prey. There is one guiding principle behind the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s management of all the species on these refuges: Conserve the natural diversity of wildlife as it is. In essence, let them be, and let humans enjoy the spectacle of nature on these refuges.
But at these particular enclaves, that also means letting humans hunt — within limits. It’s difficult to believe that any wildlife refuge isn’t truly a refuge from hunters. That’s the way the national system of refuges started, but over the last quarter century, many have been opened up to regulated hunting.
And herein lies the problem. The state of Alaska shares the responsibility for managing the refuges’ wildlife, and it has its own goal: Making sure there are plenty of animals to hunt. In an effort to maximize the number of moose, caribou and deer, the state authorized in some areas more efficient but brutal methods to kill the wolves and bears that prey upon those popular hunting targets.
Concerned that the state’s predator control campaign could become widespread enough to disrupt the refuges’ ecosystems, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a rule that bars hunters and trappers in the refuges from killing wolves and their pups in their dens, killing bear cubs or sows with cubs, baiting brown bears, shooting bears from aircraft, or capturing bears with traps and snares. The rule took effect in September.
Alarmingly, Alaska’s congressional delegation is pushing hard to get rid of these ecologically sound and humane restrictions, and Republican lawmakers are responding. A joint resolution revoking the rule has passed the House and is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate the week of March 20. It is misguided and should be hunted down and killed.
Let’s be clear on a few things. The federal rule prohibits only these gruesome methods of hunting on national wildlife refuges. It does not apply to hunting in state-owned wilderness or to rural Alaskan residents who hunt for subsistence. And it’s doubtful that killing huge numbers of wolves and bears would automatically drive up the number of moose and caribou. “The best available science indicates that widespread elimination of bears, coyotes and wolves will quite unlikely make ungulate herds magically reappear,” wrote 31 biologists and other scientists to then-Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell last year when the rule was still being studied.
In other words, the Alaskan government sought to allow types of hunting that probably would not accomplish what it wants to accomplish, but would end up killing brown bears who’d been lured with bait, slaughtering helpless cubs and wolf pups, and allowing bears to languish in excruciating pain for unknown hours in steel-jawed traps. This is unconscionable.
And this is not a case of states’ rights being usurped by the federal government. If anything, the congressional measures would subvert the federal government’s decades-long statutory authority over federal lands in Alaska.The national refuges are not Alaska’s private game reserve. That wilderness belongs to all of us. The Senate should stop this bill from going any further.
At stake are areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Forests and Federal Wildlife Refuges, which contribute to an estimated $646bn each year in economic stimulus from recreation on public lands and 6.1m jobs. Transferring these lands to the states, critics fear, could decimate those numbers by eliminating mixed-use requirements, limiting public access and turning over large portions for energy or property development.
Essentially, the revised budget rules deny that federal land has any value at all, allowing the new Congress to sidestep requirements that a bill giving away a piece of federal land does not decrease federal revenue or contribute to the federal debt.
Republican eagerness to cede federal land to local governments for possible sale, mining or development is already moving states to act. Western states, where most federal land is concentrated, are already introducing legislation that pave the way for land transfers.
“We didn’t see it coming. I think it was sneaky and underhanded. It exemplifies an effort to not play by the rules,” said Alan Rowsome, senior director of government relations at The Wilderness Society. “This is the worst Congress for public lands ever.”
Imagine running a business — say a bank or gas station — and every now and then a band of disgruntled customers barges in with guns, takes over your office and spouts nonsense about how you have no right to exist in the first place. How could you continue to conduct your business? How could you recruit new employees? How could you ensure the safety of your customers?
That is exactly the kinds of questions that leaders of our land management agencies — the folks who take care of our national parks, forests and wildlife refuges — now must face.
Because that is exactly what six men and one woman got away with at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in rural Oregon. Under the guidance of the Bundy family of Nevada, they took over the refuge headquarters last January, claiming that it was illegitimate, and causing havoc for employees and the local residents for 41 days. One militant was killed in a confrontation with police. After a tense, negotiated end to the standoff, seven militants were charged with federal conspiracy and weapons charges.
Now, 10 months later, an Oregon jury has acquitted them. By choosing the more difficult path of proving conspiracy rather than criminal trespass or some lesser charge, the government lawyers aimed too high and lost it all. The verdicts stunned even the defense attorneys.*
Without second-guessing the jury, it’s clear that the repercussions of this case will play out for years to come. But I fear that the greatest and most lasting damage caused by the thugs who took over Malheur will prove to be the way they vandalized something essential to every functioning society: Trust. If America doesn’t get its act together, this verdict may prove to be the beginning of the end of one of our greatest experiments in democracy: our public lands.
Make no mistake. There are plenty of people who would like to shoot Smokey Bear, stuff him and relegate him to some mothballed museum. The Bundy brothers who spearheaded the Oregon standoff insist that the federal government is not allowed to control any land beyond Washington, D.C., and military bases. They simply hate the idea of Yellowstone National Park and consider any other national nature reserve unconstitutional.
The Bundys’ Oregon acquittal doesn’t make their absurd reading of the Constitution any more viable. But it does embolden those who share their misguided fervor in the political sphere. Don’t take my word for it; consider the words of elation uttered by those who supported the Bundys. Montana state Rep. Theresa Manzella, R-Darby, responded to the news with a Facebook post that read: “BEST NEWS IN A LONG TIME!!! Doin’ a happy dance! Didn’t expect the verdict today!!! Hurray!”
She elaborated to a newspaper reporter: “I think it will be very empowering. It indicates that American citizens are waking up and we don’t want to be kept under the thumb of the federal government.”
The mood at the Bundy family ranch in Nevada was also jubilant: “We are partying it up,” Arden Bundy told another reporter. “This is a big step, not just up there, but for the people down here in Nevada. Knowing that they let them go scot-free, it’s going to … be a big influence on the people down here.”
The bullies who want to rule the playground just got a pat on the head by the principal and were sent back outside to play the same old game. Managing public lands is a messy, difficult and often thankless job. But in no way do these public servants deserve the kind of verbal abuse and physical intimidation reflected at Malheur. I am thankful for these hard-working people, and I marvel at how they remain true to their mission despite taking constant verbal jabs from all sides.
They deserve better. This issue reflects some larger illness in the American psyche. We have replaced civil discourse with kneejerk tribalism.
It’s much harder to restore trust than to lose it. But all of us who appreciate public lands — whether we want to log a particular place or preserve it, whether we want to hunt or watch birds, whether we enjoy riding motorcycles or horses or just walking around — need to be together on one thing. We can disagree on how we manage our lands, but we need to do so with respect. We all deserve to be heard, but we also need to listen. What happened at the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve wasn’t a revolution, it was mob rule, and it’s unfortunate for all of us that a jury failed to understand that.
*This story was updated to correct an error about the possibility of appeal. It’s the prosecutors who might have wanted to appeal, not the defense. In federal cases, such as this, government prosecution cannot appeal.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service plans to expand hunting and fishing opportunities at 13 national wildlife refuges across nine states, including opening up big game hunting in Colorado’s 92,000-acre Baca National Wildlife Refuge for the first time.
That’s good news for America’s hunters, who will have more chances to target big game species such as elk and deer, as well as prairie chickens, quail, pheasant, ducks, doves, and pigeons.
But conservationists fear the move will expose wildlife to lead poisoning and other threats.
“The best purpose for our national wildlife refuges is the original purpose: to provide an inviolate sanctuary for the protection of our native wild spaces and wildlife,” said Jennifer Place, program associate at Born Free USA in Washington, D.C.
A new statewide poll by Remington Research Group shows that Alaska voters strongly support an end to cruel and unsporting practices used to kill bears, wolves and coyotes on the state’s National Wildlife Refuges.
On Jan. 8, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed changes to regulations governing non-subsistence hunting on Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. These changes are designed to uphold the purposes of the refuge system to conserve species and habitats in their natural diversity, and to ensure that the biological integrity, diversity and environmental health of the National Wildlife Refuge system benefits Americans now and into the future. Based upon this new poll, the majority of Alaska voters support such changes as it would end cruel methods of killing wildlife on Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges.
The poll also shows that many oppose using bait, such as rotting meat and pet food, to lure bears to a hunting blind for a point blank kill and that, by a two to one margin, Alaska voters oppose the same-day aerial hunting of bears, or the shooting of bears from aircraft. Same-day hunting, in which aircraft are used to scout for animals, is already prohibited for wolves.
An overwhelming majority of Alaskans also oppose trapping of bears—a practice that involves steel-jawed, leg-hold traps or wire snares. The poll found voters, again by a margin of two to one, are firmly against killing black bears, wolves and coyotes, and oppose killing their cubs and pups, while in or near their dens.
“Alaska is home to some of our nation’s most iconic wildlife, and these animals deserve to be treasured and conserved for future generations, instead of subjected to cruel and unsporting trophy hunting and trapping methods,” said Nicole Paquette, vice president of wildlife for The Humane Society of the United States.
The telephone poll of 1,399 statewide Alaskan voters was conducted by Remington Research Group on behalf of The HSUS from Feb. 24 through Feb. 25, 2016. The margin of error is plus or minus three percent with a 95 percent level of confidence.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently proposed a new rule sharply restricting certain controversial wolf and other predator control measures on 77 million acres of federal wildlife refuges in Alaska – measures promoted by Alaska state wildlife managers like:
Killing wolves and coyotes (including pups) during the animals’ denning season.
Taking black bears with artificial light at den sites.
Taking brown or black bears attracted to bait.
Targeting bears with snares, traps, etc.
Using dogs in black bear hunts. State law currently prohibits using dogs to hunt big game, with an exception for black bears. The park service will no longer honor this exception on national preserves.
Shooting swimming caribou, a practice primarily used in the Noatak National Preserve in Northwest Alaska.
Federal public hearings are now underway across Alaska to gather public input prior to adopting the final rule. The draft rule, published in the Federal Register, aligns with a similar National Park Service rule that was finalized in October and would formally establish a goal of “biodiversity as the guiding principle of federal management of wildlife refuges.”
That stands in contrast to the goal of the Alaska Board of Game, which is to ensure maximum sustained populations for hunting. Increasingly over the last decade, the Game Board and the federal agencies have clashed over managing predators, largely over the idea that the state manages for “abundance” of moose and caribou. Under state law, the Board of Game focuses on sustaining populations of moose, caribou and deer for hunting and consumption.
The Wolf Conservation Center commends the USFWS for following the law, for managing the refuges as Congress intended, and for excluding extreme measures that are in direct conflict with preserving biological integrity, natural diversity and environmental health. To do anything less would violate public trust in the agency responsible for managing the national wildlife refuges — “special places that belong to all of us.”
The USFWS is accepting until March 8th. Comments can be submitted online through the Federal Register [using docket number FWS-R7-NWRS-2014-0005]
The refuge’s creation helped support nearby ranchers.
National wildlife refuges such as the one at Malheur near Burns, Oregon, have importance far beyond the current furor over who manages our public lands. Such refuges are becoming increasingly critical habitat for migratory birds because 95 percent of the wetlands along the Pacific Flyway have already been lost to development.
In some years, 25 million birds visit Malheur, and if the refuge were drained and converted to intensive cattle grazing – which is something the “occupiers” threatened to do – entire populations of ducks, sandhill cranes, and shorebirds would suffer. With their long-distance flights and distinctive songs, the migratory birds visiting Malheur’s wetlands now help to tie the continent together.
This was not always the case. By the 1930s, three decades of drainage, reclamation, and drought had decimated high-desert wetlands and the birds that depended upon them. Out of the hundreds of thousands of egrets that once nested on Malheur Lake, only 121 remained. The American population of the birds had dropped by 95 percent. It took the federal government to restore Malheur’s wetlands and recover waterbird populations, bringing back healthy populations of egrets and many other species.
Yet despite the importance of wildlife refuges to America’s birds, not everyone appreciates them. At one recent news conference, Ammon Bundy called the creation of Malheur National Wildlife refuge “an unconstitutional act” that removed ranchers from their lands and plunged the county into an economic depression. This is not a new complaint. Since the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1980s, rural communities in the West have blamed their poverty on the 640 million acres of federal public lands, which make up 52 percent of the land in Western states.
Rural Western communities are indeed suffering, but the cause is not the wildlife refuge system. Conservation of bird habitat did not lead to economic devastation, nor were refuge lands “stolen” from ranchers. If any group has prior claims to Malheur refuge, it is the Paiute Indian Tribe.
For at least 6,000 years, Malheur was the Paiutes’ home. It took a brutal Army campaign to force the people from their reservation, marching them through the snow to the state of Washington in 1879. Homesteaders and cattle barons then moved onto Paiute lands, squeezing as much livestock as possible onto dwindling pastures, and warring with each other over whose land was whose. Scars from this era persist more than a century later.
In 1908, President Roosevelt established the Malheur Lake Bird Reservation on the lands of the former Malheur Indian Reservation. But the refuge included only the lake itself, not the rivers that fed into it. Deprived of water, the lake shrank during droughts, and squatters moved onto the drying lakebed. Conservationists, realizing they needed to protect the Blitzen River that fed the lake, began a campaign to expand the refuge.
But the federal government never forced the ranchers to sell, as the occupiers at Malheur claimed, and the sale did not impoverish the community. In fact, it was just the opposite: During the Depression years of the 1930s, the federal government paid the Swift Corp. $675,000 for ruined grazing lands. Impoverished homesteaders who had squatted on refuge lands eventually received payments substantial enough to set them up as cattle ranchers nearby.
John Scharff, Malheur’s manager from 1935 to 1971, sought to transform local suspicion into acceptance by allowing local ranchers to graze cattle on the refuge. Yet some tension persisted. In the 1970s, when concern about overgrazing reduced – but did not eliminate – refuge grazing, violence erupted again. Some environmentalists denounced ranchers as parasites who destroyed wildlife habitat. A few ranchers responded with death threats against environmentalists and federal employees.
But violence is not the basin’s most important historical legacy. Through the decades, community members have come together to negotiate a better future. In the 1920s, poor homesteaders worked with conservationists to save the refuge from irrigation drainage. In the 1990s, Paiute tribal members, ranchers, environmentalists and federal agencies collaborated on innovative grazing plans to restore bird habitat while also giving ranchers more flexibility. In 2013, such efforts resulted in a landmark collaborative conservation plan for the refuge, and it offers great hope for the local economy and for wildlife.
The poet Gary Snyder wrote, “We must learn to know, love, and join our place even more than we love our own ideas. People who can agree that they share a commitment to the landscape – even if they are otherwise locked in struggle with each other – have at least one deep thing to share.”
Collaborative processes are difficult and time-consuming. Yet they have proven that they have the potential to peacefully sustain both human and wildlife communities.
Jan. 29 update: As of Thursday night, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that four occupiers remained at the refuge and that the agency is working to get them to come out peacefully.
Officials for the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Wednesday they will begin controlling access to Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, following the arrest of eight suspects and the death of one man late Tuesday.
The FBI and Harney County Sheriff set up checkpoints to control access into and out of the refuge, the FBI said in a statement Wednesday morning. The only people allowed to pass will be Harney County ranchers who own property in specific areas. Others will be asked to leave. Those who do not comply will be arrested. Those leaving the refuge must show identification and will have their vehicles searched, the FBI said.
The announcement comes following the shooting death of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a core member of the group of armed occupiers at the Malheur refuge. Federal Bureau of Investigation officers moved to arrest several of the illegal occupiers at about 4:25 p.m., Pacific Standard Time, on Highway 395 north of the refuge.
The suspects arrested Tuesday include Ammon Edward Bundy, 40, the leader of the Malheur occupation. Also arrested were Ryan Bundy, 43, of Bunkerville, Nevada; Brian Cavalier, 44, also of Bunkerville; Shawna Cox, 59, of Kanab, Utah; Ryan Payne, 32, of Anaconda, Montana; Joseph O’Shaughnessy, 45, of Cottonwood, Arizona; and Peter Santilli, 50, of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Arizona man Jon Ritzheimer, a member of the Three Percent militia, who had spent time at the refuge in support of the occupation, turned himself in to the Peoria, Arizona, police late Tuesday. Prior to coming to Oregon, Ritzheimer gained national attention for making incendiary comments about Muslims and organizing anti-Islam rallies.
One of the arrestees was treated for a gunshot wound at a local hospital and released last night. Officials have not released the name of the injured suspect, but the Oregonian reported it was Ryan Bundy. All arrestees face a federal felony charge of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 372.
Tuesday’s arrests come amid 25 days of occupation at the Malheur refuge, following a protest in nearby Burns, Oregon, in support of ranchers Steven and Dwight Hammond, who were being sent to jail over charges of arson on public land.
Bundy and a small group of supporters, many of whom were armed militia from across the region, took over the refuge Jan. 2. They claimed they were taking a stand against federal overreach in matters of natural resource management and touting the far-fetched idea that all federal lands, including the refuge, should be turned over to local ownership.
It was unclear early Wednesday what will happen to the occupation, or the broader movement it represents.
“I would expect that the evidence against them will be presented to a grand jury in the weeks ahead, however, and that even more serious charges will be filed based on their unlawful occupation of the Malheur Refuge,” says David Uhlmann, former head of the Department of Justice’s environmental crimes section. “There is no question that the Justice Department would pursue the most serious possible charges — to include domestic terrorism — if a militant group took over federal property on behalf of ISIS or as part of an effort to overthrow the US government. The threat from this group was far less dangerous but no less illegal, and I expect that the Justice Department will insist on felony charges and jail time for anyone who does not cooperate in the case.”
Finicum was one of the most visible of the occupiers, often speaking at length at press conferences about the occupiers’ aims and beliefs.
Finicum owned a ranch in northwestern Arizona, and has also long been a foster parent. He told reporters at the refuge that foster care, not ranching, was his main source of income. Tax documents from the Catholic Charities Community Services Inc. show that in 2009, Finicum was compensated about $115,000 for foster care, and in 2005, he received $99,000. The children in his care were taken out of his home by child services after the occupation began, thus depriving him and his wife of that income. He and his wife, Dorthea Jeanette, also owned a business called Southwest Horse and Trails, but they and the business declared bankruptcy in 2002.
The public record on Finicum is thin prior to 2014. But he appears to have gone through a major transformation after the standoff at the Bundy Ranch, just over the Nevada border from Finicum’s, in April of that year. Finicum joined the Bundys during the standoff, and helped them successfully wrest their cattle from the BLM.
Shortly thereafter, Finicum developed an online persona, with a website and Facebook page titled, “One Cowboy’s Stand for Freedom,” and laid out his creed in a series of YouTube videos. As is the case with Ammon Bundy and other members of their ad hoc movement, Finicum’s ideology was less old-school Sagebrush Rebellion than it was a broader brand of extreme libertarianism. He accused the BLM of stealing water from a huge tank on his land and other transgressions, but also spoke out against Obamacare and gun control, and encouraged his followers to stockpile enough food and supplies to survive for at least a year, in case of some sort of apocalyptic event. He even sold “Defend the Constitution” t-shirts and wrote a novel, “Only By Blood And Suffering: Regaining Lost Freedom.”
In his videos, Finicum appears to get deeper and deeper into his cause as time goes on, transitioning from merely proselytizing to inflaming actual revolt. In November of 2015 he rallied southern Utah ranchers to take part in a “Cowboy Uprising” by refusing to pay grazing fees, a la Cliven Bundy, and asked for militia support. His speech to them repeatedly invoked the American Lands Council and its seizure of federal land philosophy.
Referring to the Bundy standoff, Finicum wrote in 2014: “When I rode around that corner to face those federal guns, I knew I might never see my family again and I did it because I knew that the federal government was using the law to unjustly steal a man’s property…. I’m willing to die standing on this line.” He used similar rhetoric during the occupation, hinting that he’d rather go down shooting in the name of an ideological crusade than to spend his life in a “concrete box.”
Officials have not yet given any details regarding the exact events that led up to Finicum’s death. But as news got out that Finicum was dead, supporters of the Bundys and the occupation unleashed a flurry of propaganda on social media, accusing the feds of murdering him and raising the specter of retaliatory action against the government and law enforcement.
“My heart and prayers go out to LaVoy Finicum’s family he was just murdered with his hands up in Burns, OR,” tweeted Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore. Fiore is well-known for her extreme right wing views, her support of the Bundy family and for the Second Amendment calendars she produces and models in, posing with high-powered firearms. On its own Facebook page, the Bundy Ranch posted photos of Finicum, noting, “… our government murdered him while he was unarmed with his hands in the air… Who stands with liberty?”
But in a video posted on YouTube this morning, Ammon Bundy’s bodyguard Mark McConnell, who says he was detained and released, had a different account. “He (Finicum) was not on his knees,” McConnell says, basing his take on what he saw and heard during the altercation. “He went after (the enforcement officers). He charged them. LaVoy was very passionate about what he was doing up here.”
Still, McConnell’s account might have come too late to defuse the situation. Extremist Internet forums lit up last night with the language of revenge. “These are the first shots of a new revolution,” wrote commenter “Nextrush” on freerepublic.com. “His death will be avenged.”
DC correspondent Elizabeth Shogren contributed reporting to this story. Jonathan Thompson is a senior editor of HCN and Tay Wiles is the online editor.