Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Bundy-led Oregon standoff a mixed bag for Western federal lands crusade


The Bundy-led occupation unfolding in rural Oregon may have delivered a public relations blow to the lawful effort to loosen the federal government’s grip on Western lands, but in one key respect, the protest may also be helping.

Even as the group led by rancher Ammon Bundy comes under criticism for the takeover of a federal building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, there’s no denying that the standoff with law enforcement has heightened the profile outside the rural West of the often-ignored public lands debate.

“I’d like to think it’s hurting their cause, but it is raising public attention,” said Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and former forester who lives near Bend, Oregon.

The issue received front-page treatment Monday in The New York Times, which hasn’t shown that kind of interest in the public lands debate since the last Bundy-led protest in 2014: the standoff between Cliven Bundy, Ammon Bundy’s father, with federal agents over his refusal to pay up in a dispute over about $1 million in grazing fees.

As to whether the armed protesters locked in a low-key standoff with law enforcement at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters will ultimately harm their cause, “time will tell,” said Mr. O'Toole.

Nobody is more closely associated with the federal lands issue than Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory, the West Jordan Republican who leads the American Lands Council. After three sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and others took over the unoccupied building Jan. 2 near Burns, Oregon, Mr. Ivory condemned the action.

“A modern day Shays’ rebellion is NOT the way to solve fed abuse, overreach and mismgmt of public lands,” Mr. Ivory said on Twitter.

At the same time, Mr. Ivory, who has pushed for state legislation to start the process of transferring lands to the states, said he understands what motivates such protests, citing the “deep frustration” over the federal government’s vast property holdings.

About 50 percent of the land west of the Rocky Mountains is federally owned, versus about 5 percent of the land east of that.

“You’ve got bureaucrats thousands of miles away that put policy over people. They put politics over the health and welfare of the land,” Mr. Ivory said Monday in an interview with The Washington Times. “To the extent that we’re having a national dialogue on that, it’s a very positive thing. But the solution is education, legislation, litigation.”

The occupiers themselves have been compared to terrorists and tagged with sarcastic nicknames like “Y’all Qaeda” and “Vanilla ISIS” on social media.

In a Jan. 5 op-ed, The Oregonian newspaper dismissed the group as a “flock of loons,” but the liberal-leaning paper also said that “the frustration of rural Oregonians with federal land management is understandable.”

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