Unless you’ve had no contact with the interwebs today, you’ve probably heard that over the weekend, a handful of armed people advocating an end to public ownership of American public lands took over a visitor center at a wildlife refuge in southeastern Oregon.
The fact that a group of people with guns can take over a public facility on American lands should be disturbing. But even more disturbing is that these folks belong to a much larger political movement that wants to seize and sell off American public lands. In 11 Western state legislatures, misguided politicians have introduced dozens of bills proposing to transfer, take over, or sell off millions of acres of public lands. As these attempts to seize public land have entered the mainstream political conversation, they have tacitly paved the way for the situation in eastern Oregon.
The group of gunmen near Burns, Oregon is reportedly led by Ammon Bundy, a son of the Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. The elder Bundy became famous for illegally grazing his livestock on public land and then organizing supporters to block a highway and threaten to shoot BLM employees when asked to pay his overdue grazing fees. Ammon Bundy, along with dozens of out-of-state supporters, traveled to Oregon to protest the sentencing of two local ranchers convicted of arson on public lands. Prosecutors say that the Oregon ranchers had set the fires to cover up evidence of poaching.
From the perspective of the outdoor recreation community, the most important point is this: It’s not just the gunmen’s tactics that are wrong, but their ideas, as well. These folks want to take over public lands, and their actions do harm to the wonderful idea that these places belong to all of us.
When policymakers advocate ahistorical and unconstitutional positions about the legitimacy of federal management of public lands that unquestionably belong to all Americans, that emboldens people willing to point guns at the public servants responsible for managing our American public lands.
The fact is, we all have concerns with the way public lands are managed. Outdoor Alliance wouldn’t exist otherwise (and the BLM, Forest Service, and National Park Service can attest that we often have a thing or two to say about public lands). But the idea that differences of opinion in how public land should be managed can be resolved by abandoning our common ownership of public lands or by threatening armed insurrection is undemocratic, un-American, and dead wrong.
The best way to fight these bad ideas is to stand up for the good ones. You can act today by signing the petition to keep public lands public.