Monday, January 18, 2016

Who owns the land? Debate won't end when Bundys leave Oregon

By Ben Botkin

Supporters of turning federal lands over to states and counties have blasted home their message with dramatic activism — staring down federal agents in Bunkerville and holing up in a wildlife refuge.

Yet across the West, the movement has mostly played out in statehouses, albeit without success.
The American Lands Council, a Utah nonprofit led by Ken Ivory, a Republican legislator from Utah, wants to use existing public policy tools — Congress, statehouses or the court system — to alter land management.

But Ammon Bundy, the son of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy, tried a different tack — overtaking the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge's headquarters in southeastern Oregon and holding daily press conferences calling for the feds to leave ranchers be and cede the lands.

Ivory said, "I don't see how holing up in a wildlife refuge is necessarily going to help them immediately. Our system isn't a spectator sport. We've got to get in the game."

Debates over land management won't end if, or when, Bundy and his armed self-styled militia supporters finally pack up and leave the refuge.

Supporters say the federal lands are the equivalent of a modern-day Louisiana Purchase with the potential to enrich states and boost local economies. Opponents, including conservationists, say states and local counties lack the financial means to shoulder the enormous costs of managing lands and fighting wildfires.

The Oregon standoff, which began Jan. 2, puts some supporters of federal land transfers to states in a delicate position: They gently criticize the Bundys for making a mistake, but add that the standoff has put a spotlight on their broader cause.

The standoff both "helps and hurts" the cause, said Demar Dahl, an Elko County commissioner and rancher who led a state task force that examined land management.

"What Bundy did by going there, I thought that was a mistake," said Dahl, who supports transferring land to the state. "What came from that was the light was really shown on what was going on over there."

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