Sunday, February 14, 2016
The burning of Western bridges
The burning of Western bridges
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
Services for LaVoy Finicum weren’t confined to Utah and Oregon last week.
Widespread sympathy for him and his family was witnessed across the West. In places like Truth or Consequences, New Mexico folks gathered to offer prayers for his soul and the well being of his family. There were no behind the scenes political organizations orchestrating the demonstrations nor were there alerted and strategically positioned TV cameras or photographers to chronicle the scenes for the night’s news reader scripts or tomorrow’s front page progressive headlines. Several scores of people came because they are concerned. In fact, thousands of Americans across the West actually understand the turmoil of agency related condescension that ended in Finicum’s death. They have a deep seated concern for what transpired on the road to John Day, Oregon.
They know LaVoy Finicum was not killed on the basis of any real threat. Finicum was killed for … political expediency.
The military and the Border Patrol have a simple policy.
When an agent arrives at a new duty station, he reports to a duty officer. That official doesn’t own the facility, but he is a respected representative, and, as such, he carries a degree of authority. The agent introduces himself and makes his presence known. His action isn’t just a courtesy. It is broadly practical. He discloses his reason for arrival and he is placed into a situation to be brought up to speed on matters that affect his wellbeing. Those things can be various, but they could impact informational updates as well as points of safety. It just makes sense and it offers a structured base for communication. It is a simplistic method to set the stage for a better understanding. It creates goodwill among the ranks. It eliminates unknowns.
As western ranchers, most of us long ago assumed no such protocol was ever intended or envisioned by land management agencies. If there isn’t a matter of specific discussion regarding a project, rarely are we aware when a federal land official is going to arrive much less know about his presence on our operations. Our first inkling is a dust trail of single or multiple vehicles. Certainly, we don’t expect any special consideration, but it is seldom if ever that we would visit a neighboring operation and not announce our presence. Usually, any visit to neighboring ranches is signaled even before it takes place. We will seek the neighbor and then detail the issue. We simply don’t take action without asking permission.
It is a simple courtesy that creates goodwill. It just makes sense and it offers a base for the entire communication structure. It promotes workable neighbor relationships and it is just good manners.
When my neighbor learned his ranch had been the destination of a group of quail hunters several weeks ago, he figured it was just another group of urbanites who didn’t understand that most basic courtesy. Their actions precluded them from touching base with the steward on the ground and learning what he might know that would enhance their visit. They did not gain his respect for their decision not to talk to him, and they didn’t put themselves in a position to receive his help if a situation arose that required it. After all, they were in a border area where some government officials are instructed not to enter without armed escorts. The area is an active drug corridor controlled by the Juarez Cartel.
When my neighbor learned that one of the hunters was none other than New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich, he was not surprised, but he was disappointed the senator chose not to stop. He had been one of several ranchers asked to be present in a discussion with the senator over matters that affected his ranch by the senator’s orchestrated convincing of this president to create the national monument that impacts 100% of this ranching operation. It would have been appropriate and appreciated by the rancher if the senator had sought his constituent and greeted him on the basis of the profound impact on this man’s life and well being. After all, he is the rancher’s senator.
He chose not to. He added insult to absence of goodwill by having a staff member email the BLM for what he described as overgrazing.
The BLM immediately investigated and determined that the area described by the senator was subject to various overlapping issues that started with wintertime conditions. It is also a corridor for accessing water, and most importantly, it is adjacent to a large brush control treatment that requires removal of cattle in certain periods. It has become a primary corridor for stocking and destocking cattle related to intermittent grazing on the treatment footprint.
The senator would have done a big service if he had talked to the rancher. It would have been a helpful method to set the stage for better understanding of the matters on the ground. He would have learned that the rancher had earned high accolades for serving as the contracted steward that was necessary to fund the project. It would have created good will, and … it would have been good manners.
Oregon has been in the news in abundance.
The intent to remove the tribute to Martin Luther King on the campus of the University of Oregon for not being inclusive enough for all minorities is but one social event that is catching press attention. Another has been observed variously but it is a comprehensive effort for dramatic social change. It even has a professional website replete with events and ongoing festivities. Various press coverage defines its underlying goal as “Land Liberation and Space Reclamation!” It is promoted as a movement about people making substantive change in the way the system works. It calls for people to join in the effort in order to provide and important “psychological presence”.
Not a single participant has been labeled as a radical. In fact, over the years of its existent, not a single participant has been killed by any swat team member nor have their mode of transportation been forced by structural tactics to avoid collision by veering off any city street.
Occupy Portland, the major Occupy Wall Street scion of the Northwest, is a politically correct exercise that seemingly doesn’t rankle the attention of the new governor of the state. There is simply no public comment since the start of the movement October 6, 2011 that can be found that suggests Kate Brown has any problem with mobs that are committed to engineering a “psychological presence” of all the groovy albeit tedious demands to reduce police brutality, increase minimum wages, eliminate college tuition, celebrate May Day, advocate student strikes, uphold worker solidarity, and laying claim to urban property that stands vacant.
She is silent and has not announced any official action toward the Occupy Portland protesters into her 2016 policy priorities.
On the other hand, the nation’s first openly bisexual governor excoriated the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. She demonstrated zero tolerance for the advocated issues made by the rural version of her state’s Occupy movement. She even elevated the issue into her highest priorities for the year. It was inserted near the top of a list that included fighting for higher minimum wage, pushing affordable housing, outlining education enhancements, and funding growing threats by wildfires.
“The situation is absolutely intolerable,” she said prior to the incident that resulted in the death of Finicum. “The very fabric of this community (Burns) is being ripped apart.”
She demanded conclusive action by the federal government. Two letters were sent to this president demanding he order immediate resolution to the problem. That, of course, ended in the execution of Finicum, the arrest of the Malheur leadership hierarchy during the course of the shooting, and last Thursday’s surrender of the final four Malheur Occupy holdouts.
She apologized to the Indian Tribe whose ancestral lands underlay the now infamous wildlife refuge for the actions of the ranchers No similar empathy was offered to the family of Finicum.
The condescension demonstrated by Brown rings eerily similar to the snubbing by Senator Heinrich toward his constituent rancher. All discernible appearances of concern for an entire rural community by both liberal leaders are clearly absent. Posturing is important and it hearkens back to the simple courtesy shown by rural communities to their own. Both officials, Heinrich being elected and Brown being appointed, would be more respected if they attempted to serve all constituencies rather than pick agenda preferences. It would be a simplistic method to set the stage for better understanding for conditions on the ground. It might just create a semblance of goodwill, and … it would just be good manners.
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico, “There are terrible and tragic implications relating to the bridges that are burning across the West. Hearts are broken and …trust is increasingly absent.”