Monday, January 11, 2016

More on the rural Oregon standoff, from California and national perspectives

Here's a piece from the Sunday Sacamento Bee on what some northern California ranchers think, with a few highlights below.  The headline is " Rural Californians sympathize with protestors' goals in Oregon standoff," and in it the journalists report from Modoc County in northeastern California, with a population of less than 10,000, on the literal and cultural fringe of a very metropolitan, very populous state of nearly 39 million.  Among those interviewed is rancher Jerry Kresge:
Like the activists in Oregon, Kresge says the federal government’s grip on vast stretches of land in the West has become a stranglehold. Kresge, 56, is even thinking of driving to Burns, about 200 miles from his Modoc County ranching operation, as a show of solidarity – not so much with the activists occupying the building, but with the two imprisoned ranchers whose criminal case sparked the Jan. 2 takeover.
* * *  
Kresge is like many others in rural California who contend they are being smothered by the federal government and its land-management practices. He watched the federal government close forests to logging in the 1990s to protect endangered spotted owls, crippling the Modoc County economy. More recently, he said, the feds have allowed Modoc’s forests to grow out of control, leading to destructive wildfires. Kresge’s cattle compete for grass against herds of feral horses that he says federal officials will not relocate.

Federal agencies own 73 percent of the land in Modoc County, and Kresge said that makes it hard for the county’s 9,400 residents to earn a decent living.
The story quotes Kresge:
I am getting fed up, just about to my eyebrows. ... We either have to quit and go do something else, or we need to fight it.  I think most folks I know are to the point where they’ll fight. 
Nearly half of California land is federally controlled, either by the Bureau of Land Management, the the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Department of Defense, or some other agency. Alpine County has the most federally controlled land--a whopping 96%.  Inyo and Mono are next, at 95% and 94%, respectively.  Seventy-three percent of Modoc County is federally controlled, 10% of it by the BLM.  The story features a cool map showing all of this.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senate candidate Kamala Harris called those who are holding the Malhuer Wildlife Reserve "crazy" and "obnoxious," which seems to me very unhelpful--and crushingly metro centric.  I don't think Harris's relationship with the BLM influences whether or not she can feed her family.  An effort at some tiny degree of empathy--and less inflammatory language--seems desirable from a public official.      

Here's a January 6 NYT piece about Harney County, Oregon, which notes, among other things, that the county is about twice the size of Connecticut, with a population of 7,100 people and about 100,000 cattle.  The focus is on Burns and Harney County as places, and the impact the wildlife refuge takeover is having there (schools were closed for the first week following the takeover).  It also features lots of gorgeous winter photos of the high desert.

Here's an opinion piece titled, "Bird-Watching, Patriotism, and the Oregon Standoff" from Sunday's New York Times, by Peter Cashwell.   It leads with this interesting historical anecdote involving Johnny Cash:
In 1965, at the height of his substance abuse, Johnny Cash was called in to make a deposition, but not about possessing drugs. Instead, the singer was in trouble for leaving a burning truck at the side of a road in Los Padres National Forest in California. The flames had started a forest fire that jeopardized not only the refuge itself, but the lives of nearly 50 critically endangered California condors, which at that time made up a sizable portion of the global population. Facing the prospect of a lawsuit, and filled with “amphetamines and arrogance,” as his autobiography put it, Cash defiantly told his government questioners, “I don’t give a damn about your yellow buzzards.”
Cashwell's essential point is that the Malheur Refuge is "shared, set-aside space" and should be valued as such.  Obviously, if the land becomes private again, those who enjoy it for purposes of birdwatching would be denied that opportunity.  They would become trespassers.
Perhaps in the wide-open spaces of eastern Oregon, the idea that land should be equally shared among the members of the public makes less sense, but to those of us who live on top of one another elsewhere in the United States, there is no question that some property just can’t be private.
Finally, this NPR story takes up the issue of what the Bundys and their buddies should be called:  terrorists, troublemakers, militia, patriots ....

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