Why a robust response to Bundys at Malheur is important
The immense damage I see to public lands in southern Utah caused by private livestock grazing motivated me to start Torrey House Press. The public would not put up with current land management practices if they knew about them and I want to get the word out in literature. The land practices are absurd, and I will get to that, but what concerns me even more about the Bundys taking siege to the public buildings at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge is how it makes a mockery of the American principle of equal justice under law. Cliven Bundy has twice been convicted in federal court for illegal livestock grazing and for failure to pay grazing fees. In April 2014, after 20 years of illegal grazing, Bundy and his sons, along with numerous heavily armed protesters in cowboy hats, held the federal government off at gunpoint from rounding up the trespassing cows. Yet Bundy and his sons remain free, free to continue illegal grazing, free from paying grazing fees, free from paying court fines, free to take siege of the public visitor center at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge where, as of this writing, these gunmen remain free to come and go as these please. In the meanwhile, public schools in the surrounding county are closed in terror.
In December 2008, Tim DeChristopher was arrested for interrupting an energy auction of public land located in Utah’s red-rock country. DeChristopher was armed not with guns but with a bidding paddle. He was an out of state, non-LDS, college student at the time of the auction. Even though the auction was later ruled to be illegal because of insufficient environmental and scientific review, which was DeChristopher’s point, that fact was not allowed to be heard in court by ruling judge Dee Benson and DeChristopher was convicted, sentenced and served two years in federal prison.
At Ferguson and Baltimore the national guard was called out to thwart and suppress protesters. Protesters who were mostly black. At Malheur the Bundys come and go as they please.
The principle of equal justice was once thought important enough to be carved in stone in the highest court in the land. In the West, the notion is being made a joke by the Bundys. What is apparent is that if you are white, wear a cowboy hat, and go the right church in the West, equal justice is a double standard. Allowing a precedent like this to stand is well down the pathway to fascism.
The ecological costs of public land livestock grazing exceed that of any other western land use. Grazing is the most widespread cause of species endangerment. By destroying vegetation, damaging wildlife habitats and disrupting natural processes, livestock grazing wreaks havoc on riparian areas, rivers, deserts, grasslands and forests alike. Yet we subsidize it. Ranchers pay $1.35 per month per two cows to graze on public lands, about 15% of the current private market rate. Ranchers get greenbelt exemptions and pay effectively no property tax. The federal government pays for fences, gates, cattle guards and water works to manage the cows on public land while extending deeply discounted agricultural loans. Finally, and most abhorant, through the euphemistically named Wildlife Services the government extirpates natural predators on behalf of ranchers, wiping out ecologically critical wildlife including wolves, bears, mountain lions, bobcats, foxes and coyotes.
You cannot feed two hamsters for $1.35 per month. And the taxpayer for you, unlike for ranchers, will not provide the cage and water. Why are these whining, coddled, subsidized, gun-wielding ranchers being tolerated?
A fish rots from the head down
There is a thing know in western conservation circles as “the Hatch effect.” If a government employee of the BLM or Forest Service does something to upset a rancher, something to protect our land from cow created havoc, the rancher puts on his boots, big belt buckle and cowboy hat and goes whining to Hatch. The government agent then gets demoted and transferred and the rancher’s problem disappears. I cannot for the life of me figure out why Cliven Bundy is walking around free while his boys hold a siege of terror on public property without consequence. All I got to offer is the Hatch effect.
We the people
In the end, the power lies with we the people. We need to elect different representatives. Soon would be good.