Monday, January 22, 2018

Big feature in NYT Magazine on the Malheur occupation, two years on

Jennifer Piercy's feature in yesterday's New York Times Magazine appears under the headline, "Fear of the Government in the Ranchlands of Oregon."  This is a retrospective on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge seizure two years ago this month, but it reflects very current local views on federal land management.

Of great interest to me was the ranchers' sense of entitlement to the land, along with their penchant for conspiracy theories.  Piercy asks:
After only a few generations living here, what made them feel the land so completely belonged to them? 
Robin Olson [a member of Central Oregon Patriots, who lives in Powell Butte] told me that a lot of the region’s thinking about politics in the West originated from a publication called Range magazine. “What you will find,” she told me, “is that it was never about the sage grouse, never about the spotted owl and never about the wolf. It was about getting people off the land.” I asked Robin about the sage grouse, whose population had plummeted from 16 million to a few hundred thousand, and she told me, “I don’t think they are really endangered.” The sage grouse “just happened to live in almost every Western state” and that’s why “the government chose it.”
Also, here's a fabulous and fascinating quote by geographer Paul Starrs, from his essay “An Inescapable Range, or the Ranch as Everywhere.”
Ranching’s realm is really, then, definable as being where most people are absent.
This is one way of saying that ranching requires lots of territory, a fact detailed with this information about the ranch of Joe and Gay Cronin:
This was Cronin’s “home ranch,” where he housed his cattle in the winter and provided shelter for their newborns. In the spring, he gathered the cattle in trailers the size of semis and hauled them north, into the Malheur National Forest, where he owned 320 acres of land. He also had a permit that allowed him to graze his cattle for five and a half months of the year, usually June to October, on lands in the Malheur managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Every year he and Gay attended a required meeting to discuss the terms of their permit. Usually, the Forest Service decided how many cattle he could let out on the range and for how long. If an endangered species lived on the federal land, the terms of the permit were subject to change.
That excerpt also notes the procedure that ranchers who use any public lands are required to go through each year.  I found this detail about the ways the federal government engages ranchers to be very interesting and found myself wanting to know more about this interface--and what it is that the federal government does--other than protect endangered species and wildlife--that the ranchers find so annoying.  Or is that protection sufficient to drive the annoyance?  Well, here are the closing paragraphs of the story, with Piercy writing in the first person, which seems to answer that question:
I tried to suggest a lack of understanding between rural and urban people, but Robin stopped me. “No,” she said. “We just want different things.” The statement was cold and clear. It suggested the end of reconciliation. “We don’t want you breathing down our back,” she said. “Bottom line is we don’t trust you. We don’t trust you to look out for our best interests. And in truth we don’t even know that you know how to. A lot of people were saying this was about saving the bunnies and butterflies, but that’s not what this is about.”
Robin sat over her empty plate. “It’s about getting people off the land,” she said. “It’s dark.”

1 comment:

spike said...

I found the article to be a very interesting read. But also interesting were many of the comments to the article, especially people who identified themselves as law abiding ranchers from the area who thought they received a short shrift.