Protest in Oregon highlights ongoing issues over public lands management

ST. GEORGE — Armed protesters who took over a federal building at an Oregon wildlife refuge last week have told reporters they have no intention of leaving until a plan is in place to transfer management of public lands from the federal government to the states.

While ranchers and others gathered at Burns, Oregon, last week to support ranchers Dwight and Steve Hammond, a father and son who were convicted of committing arson on two separate occasions, the event has since been used by the protesters to highlight a continuing movement in the West that advocates local management of public lands over federal control.

Ammon Bundy: Transfer management of the lands, then we’ll leave

A sign referencing Ammon Bundy and his brother, who are the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, hangs on a tree in front of a home Tuesday. Ammon Bundy, the leader of a small, armed group that is occupying a remote national wildlife preserve in Oregon said Tuesday that they will go home when a plan is in place to turn over management of federal lands to locals, Burns, Orgeon, Jan. 5, 2016 | AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, St. George News
A sign referencing Ammon Bundy and his brother, who are the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, hangs on a tree in front of a home Tuesday. Ammon Bundy, the leader of a small, armed group that is occupying a remote national wildlife preserve in Oregon said Tuesday that they will go home when a plan is in place to turn over management of federal lands to locals, Burns, Orgeon, Jan. 5, 2016 | AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Ammon Bundy — son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy who was involved in a standoff with federal agents over public land use issues in 2014 — told reporters late Tuesday that the group of protesters would leave when there was a plan in place to turn over federal lands to locals — a common refrain in a decades-long fight over public lands in the West.

“It is our goal to get the logger back to logging, the rancher back to ranching,” Ammon Bundy said, according to The Associated Press.

The group of armed protesters who took over the building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge are estimated to be around 20 in number, according to The Associated Press. They were originally a part of a peaceful protest Saturday related to the Hammonds’ conviction.

Prosecutors said the Hammonds lit fires on public lands in 2001 and 2006. The first time was to cover up a deer poaching and the second was to burn out invasive plants and to create a fire break for possible wildfire. The Hammonds were subsequently prosecuted and convicted for arson.

Dwight and Steve Hammond served their original sentences — three months for Dwight Hammond and one year for Steven Hammond — but an appeals court judge ruled the terms fell short of minimum sentences that require them to serve about four more years.

Jon Ritzheimer, of Arizona, a member of the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, adjust a sign. Law enforcement had yet to take any action Tuesday against the group numbering close to two dozen who are upset over federal land policy. Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, near Burns, Oregon, Jan. 5, 2015 | AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, St. George News
Jon Ritzheimer, of Arizona, a member of the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, adjust a sign. Law enforcement had yet to take any action Tuesday against the group numbering close to two dozen who are upset over federal land policy. Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, near Burns, Oregon, Jan. 5, 2015 | AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, St. George News

The Hammonds reported to federal authorities Monday and were transferred to California to begin their prison terms. They have, according to media reports, distanced themselves from the actions of the group at the wildlife refuge.

Ammon Bundy said group members would take a defensive position anticipating a possible raid Tuesday night. As a precaution, they moved a large plow vehicle to block the refuge’s driveway, The Associated Press reported.

Not everyone is happy with the protesters’ actions in Oregon.

Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, in a press conference Wednesday, said it was time for the group to go home.

“First of all, Americans have the right to protest, it should not take this form, and it is time for those who are there to depart,” Welden said. “They have made their case, but it also brings up the issues we deal with in the West.”

As for the case of the Hammonds, Walden said a federal judge had felt the five-year mandatory sentences the Hammonds were faced with “would be unconscionable to levy” and therefore should be changed to shorter terms, according to The Associated Press.

“We need to change the federal law under which they were sentenced,” Walden said, and added:

The takeaway has to be that there is a problem in the West across the whole Great Basin that has to be dealt with responsibly. But an armed takeover is not the way to go about it.

Call for state control versus federal control

Map detailing the location of public lands (marked in red). | Image courtesy of Arewenotastate.com
Map detailing the location of public lands (marked in red). | Image courtesy of Arewenotastate.com

Advocates for state control of public lands have said local government is better suited to managing public lands as they claim federal agencies are doing more harm than good. They allege communities that once flourished by harvesting natural resources are now economically devastated and that the continuing mismanagement of national forests is creating possible hazards, among other accusations.

“Unfortunately, federal mismanagement of our public lands is producing unhealthy air and water, decimated wildlife, blocked off and destroyed recreation access, and unsafe, economically depressed communities,” the American Lands Council, a group that lobbies for state control of the lands, said in a statement Wednesday.

“As the constitutional lines of jurisdiction have become blurred, unfair treatment of American citizens has also become more prevalent,” the ALC said.

While ALC officials share the protesters’ belief that the Hammonds were treated unfairly and that there should be local control, they did not express support for what the protesters are doing.

“In spite of grave injustices levied against the Hammond ranching family, the potentially dangerous standoff that is shaping up in Oregon is not likely to resolve conflicts caused by the federal government’s mismanagement of public lands,” the ALC statement read.

The ALC statement continued: “Although we understand the frustration with how the Hammonds and many other rural Americans have been treated by federal land managers, we pray the situation in Oregon is decided peacefully, and that calm reason prevails on all sides.”

According to The Associated Press, a group calling itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom said it wants an inquiry into whether the government is forcing ranchers off their land after the Hammonds reported back to prison Monday.

Federal officials: The lands belong to everyone

Randy Eardley, a Bureau of Land Management spokesman, said the group’s call for land ownership transfer doesn’t make sense.

“It is frustrating when I hear the demand that we return the land to the people, because it is in the people’s hand — the people own it,” Eardley said. “Everybody in the United States owns that land. … We manage it the best we can for its owners, the people … whether it’s for recreating, for grazing, for energy and mineral development.”

The federal government controls about half of all land in the West, which would make the wholesale transfer of ownership extremely difficult and expensive.

For example, it owns 53 percent of Oregon, 85 percent of Nevada and 66 percent of Utah, according to the Congressional Research Service. Taking over federal public lands in Idaho could cost the state $111 million a year, according to a University of Idaho study.

Such land disputes date back decades in the West. In the 1970s, Nevada and other states pushed for local control in what was known as the Sagebrush Rebellion. Supporters wanted more land for cattle grazing, mining and timber harvesting.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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25 Comments

  • KarenS January 6, 2016 at 8:35 pm

    The article should have pointed out that the quotes from the American Lands Council are merely the musings of Ken Ivory from Utah who makes his living by going around to counties in the West charging them “dues” in the thousands of dollars for his “help” in the futile attempt to “take back” public lands. As far as I am concerned the public lands already belong to me as a taxpayer and am happy to have the federal government oversee them.

  • Accountable January 6, 2016 at 9:38 pm

    Thank you Mori for writing this nonpartisan and unbiased article. Journalists, like you, who maintain a standard of ethics and responsibility and report the facts, give us the tools and information we need to draw our own conclusions.

  • native born new mexican January 6, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    Mr. Kessler please do your research and show us the conviction that the Hammonds have for poaching. There is not one, so please don’t slander them with that statement. You would not want to be called a poacher if you had no legal conviction for doing that. Land under federal control is not public land it is federal land and it is treated that way. The fed’s own it ( they think) and they will do as they please with it. The BLM man saying with a big smirk on his face “public land” is doing nothing but seeing how many fools he can lie too. The lands the feds are laying claim too is for lining their own pockets with foreign money.
    ask Harry Reid and the Clinton’s how that works. They can explain it to you. these are comments by Mr. Walden
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bx4ocLdWE90 He gave a very good talk on this subject. I hope every takes the time to listen to it. He explains who the Hammonds are and what the terrible problems are.

    • Rainbow Dash January 7, 2016 at 8:15 am

      Mr. Mexican please do your research and show us all proof of the many statements you’ve made against the federal government recently. There isn’t any, so please don’t slander them with those statements.

      • native born new mexican January 7, 2016 at 8:52 am

        Why don’t you watch the video Rainbow? There is lots of info there. Why don’t you look a few things up yourself? It is very easy. Just go to google search. I don’t think you are trying to be flattering with the Mr. Mexican comment so I recommend you use some caution with your terms and words.

        • 42214 January 7, 2016 at 10:02 am

          Or what?

          • native born new mexican January 7, 2016 at 11:52 am

            Want to be reported to the moderator 42214??

          • .... January 8, 2016 at 6:04 am

            LOL ! Ha ha ha ha ha you’re getting reported 422 ! LOL ! Woooooohooooooooo ! way to go. !

          • Chris January 8, 2016 at 9:00 am

            Yes, please report him to the moderator, and find out what happens. In case you did not realize it, Mr. Mexican, the “moderator”, aka Joyce, approves every comment before it ever appears here. So, Mr. Mexican sounds like it’s here to stay. I love it.

          • Chris January 8, 2016 at 9:03 am

            Actually, I am pretty sure that Mr. Mexican is really Ms. Mexican.

          • 42214 January 8, 2016 at 11:46 am

            Oh please, not that.

          • theone January 9, 2016 at 9:58 am

            You two picking on native doormat report to the principles office immediately. Hahahahaha

          • .... January 11, 2016 at 4:08 am

            Ok everybody picking on nbn Mexican . report for timeout !

        • .... January 7, 2016 at 11:23 am

          Hey Mr Mexican I recommend you use caution with your words and terms when threatening somebody on an public forum. have a nice day Mr Mexican

        • Rainbow Dash January 7, 2016 at 1:17 pm

          Mr. Mexican, Thank you for FINALLY posting something other then nothing. I agree with many points Mr. Walden raised. Do I agree that The Hammonds being resentenced was fair? No! But it’s the law put in place and agreed upon by a majority of people and it needs to be upheld equally. We cannot and should not apply the law differently in different areas as Mr. Walden suggested when he made the statement comparing Harney County to Los Angeles. The Hammonds broke the law and they need to be sentenced according to the law. In my opinion, there should be no distinction about where they live. Like it or not, They agreed to live there, to become ranchers and take on all the responsibility and rules that come with that profession and they should be held to the law when they CHOOSE to break it just like everyone else.

          As to the rest of your statement. I’m not going to do your research for you so you. Not one nanosecond of my life is going to be dedicated to that endeavor. Why don’t you post it yourself? It’s very easy. Just copy the link and paste it here. Why does me calling you Mr. Mexican offend you? Isn’t your pseudonym Native Born New MEXICAN?

        • observer January 8, 2016 at 8:12 am

          When engaging in posts in any forum, there are always several who take the conversation into their own agenda, completely steering away from the subject/topic at hand. There are a couple of them who frequent the St George news. If they were stable, they would post an opinion, and move on. It’s these types native born that the sheriff in Oregon is talking about – it only takes one unstable individual….

          When there’s silence from the President, and peaceful negotiations to remove Bundy from Oregon, then the parties to the case and the appropriate agencies, must be working legally on something…. Be it revised legislation, pardon, good time credits, etc. When released, the inmate has a right to privacy and the prisons take that seriously.

          It is time for the protestors to go home. They and the media will not be privy to the good works going on for the Hammonds and other ranchers. They will only create further chaos, mostly because the media is drama….They spin stories to create an audience.

          • 42214 January 9, 2016 at 11:21 pm

            If they were stable? Let’s hear you resume of training, expertise, and clinical experience in diagnosing others from obscure comments. What a self-righteous, arrogant ass you are Observer. You inferred I was a disgruntled, disillusioned vet bitter at his gov’t. You assume so much from so little it’s laughable. You make Mesaman look intelligent and I didn’t think that was possible.

          • .... January 11, 2016 at 4:06 am

            Wow you really are an idiot.!
            Mesaman has a higher IQ than you. and his is a single digit.

            Just curious .but it seems you two are related. so together you two have a combined IQ of 1

      • tcrider January 7, 2016 at 9:45 am

        you are right rainey, the native born idiot just likes to spout his evil government propaganda, the bundies are only a mosquitoe on a giant arse, and many people cannot wait until the government slaps it and leaves a little red spot . if bundy survives this mess, he will really be owing the government a large amount of money, and then watch papa bundy squirm.

    • theone January 7, 2016 at 9:35 am

      Native doormat, those voices from the conspiracy closet in your head are a blemish on your logic. Just because they weren’t convicted of poaching it doesn’t mean they aren’t poachers. Go read the court documents that prove what those boneheads did including poaching.

    • 42214 January 7, 2016 at 11:00 am

      Because you said to ask Harry Reid I called him and had a long talk. He siad you’re full of Mexican jumping beans. Hillary was too busy to talk but said she’d call me back later. Adios muchacho.

      • .... January 7, 2016 at 4:23 pm

        Hey I called Donald Trump but he was out golfing with Obama

  • knobe January 7, 2016 at 7:25 am

    An interesting aspect of the current stand off on our taxpayer land is that
    the local Paiutes are Not in favor of the Bundy klan and have asked them to Go Home .
    Guess the Bundys think themselves not only More important than the taxpayers
    ( who they used to back a 1/2 Million $$$$$$ dollar + loan )
    But also the native peoples .

    Bundys . . . playing taxpayers , biting the hand they are using for $$$$ and disrespecting the ‘locals’ . . .
    Way to go guys !

    !

  • .... January 7, 2016 at 10:14 am

    LOL ! This is going to get funny when that idiot from Mesa AZ trys to post what the voices in his head think is an intelligent comment !

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