Monday, January 4, 2016

Very thoughtful piece on the Oregon situation, linking Hammonds and Bundys

NPR has posted "Of Ranchers and Rancor:  The Roots of the Armed Occupation in Oregon," which is probably the most balanced and intelligent piece I have read so far on the situation at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  Colin Dwyer, an NPR producer, is the author.  Kudos to him.  He takes it back to the Homestead Act and explains that many who homesteaded this far out west could not be profitable with the standard 160 acres.  They needed more in this harsh ecological climate and so became beholden to the federal government for access to more land, which they leased.

Dwyer quotes Paul Starrs, a geography professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, who was interviewed for a 2014 story about these same issues.  The quote is about the situation—really a pickle—that this put ranchers in:
When you are using somebody else's land for your livelihood, that puts you in a very dependent relationship.  And livestock ranchers are, in my experience, pretty savvy people. And they don't like that uncertainty. Nobody really likes uncertainty. 
The situation in Nevada, in particular, is aggravated by the fact that more than 81% of Nevada's territory was owned by the United States in 2010. In Oregon, the figure is about 53%—or 30 million acres administered by the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service. 

Some news agencies have depicted the Hammonds as, well, innocent, in relation to what the Bundys have initiated at Malheur.  Here is a relevant excerpt from Dwyer's story:
The Hammonds' attorney has previously stated the militiamen showing up in Burns do not represent the ranchers.  …  Many locals in Burns have also received the out-of-towners warily — with several "Militia Go Home" fliers posted throughout the town.
Don't miss one of those photos in the slide show here.  

Dwyer, however, provides some information that counters that separation or distancing the Hammonds now want to achieve:
The animus harbored by the two Hammond men for federal land agencies dates back decades. Both reportedly were arrested for obstructing federal officials in 1994 — in protest of which "nearly 500 incensed ranchers showed up at a rally in Burns,"according to High Country News. But even before that, the Hammonds bristled at the authority of managers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. 
"[Dwight] Hammond allegedly made death threats against previous managers in 1986 and 1988 and against [Forrest] Cameron, the current manager, in 1991 and again this year," High Country News reported in 1994. 
The seeds of the current situation were sown in 2001 and 2006. In both those years, the U.S. government said the Hammonds set fires that spread onto land managed by the BLM.  
The 2001 blaze burned 139 acres of public land, according to court documents; the 2006 fire — for which only Steven was convicted — burned an additional acre of public land.
Arson convictions for both father and son were handed down in 2012.
No one denies that the Hammonds showed up in California today, on the appointed day and at the appointed place, so that they can begin to serve the remainder of their sentences after a federal appellate court said the initial sentences imposed by the trial court did not comport with federal sentencing guidelines. 

But something was afoot for weeks before today's compliance by the Hammonds—and before what happened Saturday night:
The long-running debate over federal control of public land that has fueled political conflict for generations has come to a new standoff in the rolling ranch lands of southeastern Oregon. The new activists began trickling into town in December, hanging on at the fringes, brandishing rifles and handguns, proselytizing from the beds of pickups against federal land ownership until, without warning, they struck.
Hmm.  What next?  in the court of public opinion?  on social media?  and actually at Malheur National Wildlife Reserve?

1 comment:

TokyoTom said...

Nice stuff, Lisa.

Most of the urban public is wholly clueless to how the small size of claims allowed under the Homestead Act has set up first a tragedy of the commons on the arid range (as everyone fought over grazing of unclaimed lands) and then enduring conflict between ranchers and bureaucrats (and mining companies wanting land and environmentalists/conservationists.

In wetter areas, people claimed all land, so successful farmers and ranchers were able to expand by purchases, but in case of the range, they were stuck dealing with bureaucrats who just don't have the same skin in the game and who don't bear the consequences of cutting back AUMs or blocking access to private water claims.