Why is the federal government so insistent on making an example out of the Hammond family?
Isn’t it wonderful that we live in Oregon where we can kill an innocent unborn baby and give a person all the tools they need to help them end their own life, but if we burn up a sagebrush we will be hit with a stiff jail sentence. Our federal judges call it domestic terrorism to burn sagebrush on federal land, except when the government does it.
I’m a 79-year-old rancher and I’ve been trying to get rid of sagebrush all my life by every method imaginable, including fire, and if sometimes I was successful, the grass and forage came back so much better.
How many times have we watched the federal firefighters run the locals off of a small fire that they had under control and they do backfires and with their inaction, generate it into a fire that would burn for weeks. How many times did their backfires burn up private ground and livestock?
So why is the federal government so insistent on making an example out of the Hammond family? They did their time and are paying the price. Why are they so dogged and relentless in spending so much time and money in trying to continue to persecute one family? Could it have anything to do with a water right case the Feds lost to the Hammonds a few years back, and they are trying to get revenge? Could it be the Feds covet the Hammonds’ property next door to the refuge and on Steens Mountain? The government has deep pockets when they go after private citizens and it makes one wonder why they want to extend their authority so hard on one single family.
I’ve known the Hammond family since they moved to Frenchglen and Diamond about 50 years ago, and they are good, honest people and certainly not terrorists. We need to ask ourselves why the federal government is releasing thousands of convicted felons and are so relentless in trying to send one of our hard-working, tax-paying neighbors to jail, especially after they have already served their time. Why aren’t our congressmen looking into this travesty of the government taking away their BLM permits and trying to steal their property?
I’m wondering how you would feel, whether government worker or private citizen, to be hung twice for the same crime, to justify the federal government stealing your property.
Militiamen stand on a road at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., Jan. 4, 2016. The leaders of a group of self-styled militiamen who took over a U.S. wildlife refuge headquarters over the weekend said on Monday they had acted to protest the federal government’s role in governing wild lands. (Photo: Jim Urquhart/Reuters/Newscom)
As protesters continue to engage in a standoff against the government at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, conservatives agree the events have elevated the debate over federal land ownership.
But lawmakers stop short of endorsing the actions of the protesters occupying a federal building located south of Burns, Ore.
“It’s brought attention to a problem issue,” Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, told The Daily Signal. “I’m not an advocate of trespassing, taking over federal property, but now that they’ve brought attention to the issue, they don’t need to be violating laws, either—local, state, or federal.”
“We do need to get to the bottom of what happened to the Hammonds. It sounds very abusive,” Gohmert, chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, continued. “We’ve got too much power in the hands of the [Bureau of Land Management], too much power in the hands of Fish and Wildlife [Service], too much power in the Department of the Interior.”
The federal government currently owns more than 630 million acres of land across the United States, and the Texas Republican warned that the federal government is beginning to creep farther east in terms of the land it controls.
“If they’re doing it in the West, then eventually they’re going to come do it in the East, and people all over the country will feel the crush as the federal government takes over the land at a theater near you,” he said.
On Saturday, armed protesters took over an empty federal building located on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. It’s unknown how many people are in the group, called Citizens for Constitutional Freedom and led by Ammon Bundy.
Ammon Bundy’s father, Cliven Bundy, engaged in an 11-day standoff with the Bureau of Land Management in 2014.
The protesters plan to occupy the refuge until the federal government returns the land to private ownership.
Citizens for Constitutional Freedom traveled to Burns to protest the five-year prison sentence of Dwight and Steven Hammond, ranchers who were convicted of arson on federal land.
Dwight and Steven Hammond originally received three-month and one-year sentences, respectively, for setting fires that spread to federal land in 2001 and 2006. However, the 9th United States Circuit Court of Appeals resentenced the father and son in October and said they have to serve out a five-year sentence mandated under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the law under which they were sentenced.
The trial judge who sentenced Dwight and Steven Hammond originally said the five-year mandatory minimum for arson on federal land was excessive.
Protesters with Citizens for Constitutional Freedom oppose not only the Hammonds’ sentence, which they say is unjust, but also the government’s control of land.
The latter issue, conservatives from Western states say, has been the cause of frustration for many Americans for years, particularly as they see the federal government take more land from private citizens trying to make a living and feed their families.
“The issue in the West that people here in the East don’t understand is that, in Idaho, it’s over 65 percent of our lands are owned by the federal government. It’s the same thing in most of the states in the West,” Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, told reporters yesterday. “And what we have is frustration where you have the BLM, you have these other federal agencies that keep taking over the lands.”
In Oregon, specifically, the federal government owns 53 percent of the land, with the Bureau of Land Management managing the largest amount—more than 16 million acres—according to a 2014 report from the Congressional Research Service.
Labrador said the government’s attempts to take control of more and more land likely served as the catalyst for the current standoff in Oregon, which has so far been a peaceful takeover by Citizens for Constitutional Freedom.
“You have just a frustration that they feel the federal government is not listening to them, and that’s what leads to what so far has been a peaceful takeover of an abandoned building,” he said. Labrador continued:
I hope my colleagues who are not from the West can understand what’s happening in the West. There’s such a level of frustration with the federal government. … The laws are making it more difficult for us to enjoy the fruits of our labor and enjoy the freedoms out in the West.
Not only do lawmakers contend that the protesters at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge are voicing concerns shared by many in the West, but Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., said the federal government was hypocritical in its punishment of the Hammonds for employing the same techniques the government does, and damaging far more land.
According to reports, the 2001 fire set by the Hammonds, which they said they had approval from the Bureau of Land Management to start, damaged 139 acres of federal land. The 2006 backfires set by Steven Hammond destroyed one acre of federal land.
“Now keep in mind we in the West are watching the backfires that were set [by the government] exactly the way [the Hammonds] set, the backfires are burning 300,000 acres when an agency sets them. They’re burning 255 houses in my district in one 30,000-acre fire,” Pearce said. He continued:
You get people put in jail for five years for burning 130 acres that they were given permission, it looks like they were given permission to set the fire, and the agency can burn 300,000 acres, and nobody is accountable.
Such hypocrisy from the government, the New Mexico Republican said, has sparked outrage from Americans living in the West.
“That’s the reason people in the West are furious,” he said. “They’re furious going into this situation. Now, I’m not taking a side on the Bundys. I think that’s a sideshow. I think the Hammonds are the ones who have been badly treated, and that’s what we’re expressing in the West. We’re fed up.”
Conserving America’s land resources has been a federal concern since President Theodore Roosevelt made it a national priority more than 100 years ago. The objective was not just to conserve and protect the environment, but also to enhance the quality of life for Americans and improve the use of natural resources. Today, however, federal land management policy has strayed far from President Roosevelt’s vision. Instead, Washington has implemented a command-and-control approach that wastes valuable financial resources and at times is environmentally harmful.
The federal government now owns one-third of the land in the United States.2 Four federal agencies–the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and National Park Service–are tasked with managing most of this land3 with combined annual budgets of $8.1 billion for fiscal year (FY) 1999. But as recent reports by the federal government’s own watchdogs point out, these agencies are not doing a good job. For example:
The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that the cost of eliminating the agencies’ reported backlog of maintenance problems on public land exceeds $12 billion.4
The Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Agriculture found serious accounting and financial reporting deficiencies in the Forest Service, including “pervasive errors” in data supporting “land, buildings, equipment, accounts receivable, and accounts payable.”5
A Congressional Research Service analyst found that a 1996 GAO study did not use a General Services Administration analysis of the amount of land each agency managed because of discrepancies between the GSA’s numbers and those reported by the other four agencies.6
The Congressional Budget Office observed in April 1999 that in many instances, the National Park Service, the Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management find it difficult to maintain and finance operations on their existing land holdings…. [E]nvironmental objectives such as habitat protection and access to recreation might be best met by improving management in currently held areas, rather than providing minimal management over a larger domain.7
Such internal management problems, coupled with federal environmental regulations, undermine the efforts of federal land managers to care for public land under their oversight. Yet both President Bill Clinton and Congress have proposed establishing trust funds to purchase even more federal land which then would fall under these agencies’ control.
As far back as 1818, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Bevans that a state’s right to control property within its borders was an essential part of its sovereignty. Despite this precedent, however, these new proposals would override both state sovereignty and private property rights.
President Clinton’s Land Legacy Initiative would establish a $1.3 billion trust fund for new federal and state land acquisitions, which includes $450 million for federal land acquisition and $580 million for state and local government land acquisitions.8 This amounts to an increase of 125 percent over the federal funds available in the 1999 budget.9
The Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 1999 (H.R. 701) would direct about $900 million to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)–$378 million for federal land acquisitions, $378 million for state land acquisitions, and $144 million for local governments’ Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery programs. A companion bill (S. 25) has been introduced in the Senate. Unlike the Land Legacy Initiative, the congressional legislation would transform the LWCF into a “dedicated fund” that, by design, would allow federal agencies to bypass the scrutiny of the annual appropriations process and congressional oversight.
As the Framers of the Constitution understood, people care most about the environment in which they live, and the level of government closest to the people is the most effective at implementing policies that promote conservation of land while respecting property rights. These current proposals, however, would enhance the federal government’s appetite for, and its ability to own and manage even more of the nation’s lands, reducing even further the amount of private property owned by individual Americans. Thus, they run counter to America’s constitutional legacy.
Today, the federal government cannot account fully for the quantity and condition of the land it owns. Congress’s first step should be to initiate a thorough investigation of the federal government’s current land holdings and land management activities. In addition, a new federal land management policy should be developed that is based on the core American principles of conservation, federalism, and property rights.
To that end, Congress should ensure that the federal government manages only public land possessing unique historic, recreational, or biological qualities. Privatizing land that should not be under government control would both ease the financial burden that inappropriate federal holdings inflict on taxpayers and the U.S. Treasury and encourage local interest and investment in conserving America’s land resources.
Congress also should consider devolving to the states ownership of land that does not meet the criteria for federal ownership and is not suitable for privatization. State and local governments generally have managed public land efficiently and with greater responsiveness to local needs and interests. If their money had to pass first through Washington’s land management bureaucracies, however, it is not certain that this would continue.
The implementation of policies that allow the federal government to own only land of truly national interest would accomplish two essential goals: It would enable federal land managers to focus their efforts and resources on protecting America’s greatest national treasures, and it would ensure the long-term conservation of America’s natural resources for future generations.
HOW MUCH LAND DOES UNCLE SAM OWN?
Although the goal of preserving land for posterity is noble, the true impact of current federal land management policy should not be lost behind a cloud of good intentions. In 1996, the General Accounting Office reported that the federal government owned a staggering 650 million acres, or one-third of the land in the United States.10 The Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service manage about 95 percent of this land11 (approximately 618 million acres, or about 7,500 acres per employee).12 As of September 1994, these agencies also had obtained rights-of-use to over 3 million acres on nonfederal land through leases, agreements, permits, and easements.13
The Clinton Administration and several Members of Congress hope to enable the federal government to purchase even more land, which would then be placed under the management of these agencies. This effort by the federal government is not new:
Between 1964 and 1993, the number of acres managed by the four federal agencies increased in 46 states and decreased only in Alaska, Idaho, New Mexico, and Utah.14
At the end of FY 1993, the four federal agencies managed over 50 percent of the land in five states and over 25 percent of the land in an additional seven states.15
Excluding two large land transfers in Alaska, the total amount of land managed by the four federal land management agencies between 1964 through 1993 increased by about 34 million acres.16
The four agencies acquired control of about 203,000 acres in FY 1994.17
In certain Western states and localities, the federal government owns the vast majority of land. For example, it owns more than 86 percent of the land in Nevada, 67.9 percent in Utah, 67 percent in Alaska, and 65.2 percent in Idaho.18
The Department of the Interior’s budget for FY 2000 includes $295 million in land acquisition funds for 610,000 new acres.19
California is expected to lose over 445,000 acres to the federal government in FY 2000.20
With few exceptions, the amount of land managed by the four federal land management agencies has increased, primarily through the expansion of existing national forests, wildlife refuges, and parks or through the creation of new ones. The proposals of the President and Congress would enable the federal government to spend up to $1.3 billion annually for federal and state land acquisitions, even though the federal land management agencies lack accountability and their track record can be characterized as poor.
HOW WELL ARE FEDERAL AGENCIES MANAGING PUBLIC LAND?
In an April 1999 report, the Congressional Budget Office proposed placing a ten-year moratorium on future appropriations for land acquisitions by land management agencies.21Proponents of this option argue that these agencies should improve their stewardship of the land they already manage before taking on additional management responsibilities.
To facilitate their oversight of the preservation and protection of federal public lands, Members of Congress reasonably would expect the land management agencies to provide such information as the total amount of land managed, where it is located, the particular needs of each tract, and how these needs are reflected in agency performance goals, funding requests, programming, and staffing. In addition, under the Government Performance and Results Act, Congress expects agencies to match their performance goals with specific activities and to be held accountable for their results. The inability of federal land management agencies to provide Congress or the American public with an accurate accounting of the public lands under their control, in addition to their large backlog of maintenance problems, clearly indicates that these agencies are not performing as they should be.
Interested in raising revenue and reducing global warming, some policymakers in Washington are floating the idea of a carbon tax. In order to sway conservatives to support a carbon tax, proponents are pushing for either revenue neutrality or replacing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) greenhouse gas regulations. These proponents ignore three critical realities of implementing a carbon tax.
1. A Carbon Tax Would Damage the Economy
Since an overwhelming majority of America’s energy needs are met by carbon-emitting fossil fuels, regulations of these fuels directly raise the cost of electricity, gasoline, diesel fuel, and home heating oil. Since low-income families spend a larger proportion of their income on energy, a tax that increases energy prices would disproportionately affect the budgets of the poorest American families.
Businesses, faced with higher energy costs, would likely pass those costs on to consumers. However, if a company had to absorb the costs, high energy costs would squeeze profit margins and prevent businesses from investing and expanding. Investors might even move their funds away from energy companies and toward less regulated business enterprises, thus depriving fossil-fuel-based companies much-needed cash for more efficient power generation. The result is higher energy costs, lower income, and fewer jobs.
In 2012, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) made a comparison analysis for a carbon tax that starts at $25 and rises by 5 percent per year (after adjusting for inflation). Compared to the baseline case, without the carbon tax, this would:
Cut the income of a family of four by $1,900 per year in 2016 and lead to average losses of $1,400 per year through 2035;
Raise the family-of-four energy bill by more than $500 per year (not counting the cost of gasoline);
Cause gasoline prices to increase by up to $0.50 gallon, or by 10 percent on an average gallon price; and
Lead to an aggregate loss of more than 1 million jobs by 2016 alone.
In particular, energy-intensive industries and manufacturing would feel the adverse effects of a carbon tax, which comes at a time when many companies, lured by the prospect of abundant and cheap natural gas, are moving to the United States. A recent KPMG analysis of the U.S. chemical industry emphasizes, “With a new and abundant source of low-cost feedstock, the US market has transformed to become one of the most advantageous markets for chemical production in the world.” A carbon tax would unnecessarily reverse this resurgence.
2. A Carbon Tax Would Not Save the Planet
Unilaterally reducing greenhouse gases would not make a dent on global emissions and, consequently, would do next to nothing to reduce global temperatures. Even if the U.S. were to curb carbon emissions 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 (what cap-and-trade bills required), it would reduce global temperatures by only a few tenths of a degree Celsius by the close of the century.
This is because future carbon emissions will come overwhelmingly from the developing world (China and India, for example), which shows little appetite for squeezing economic growth for the sake of the environment.
A common argument is that if the U.S. leads in reducing emissions, the rest of the world would follow suit. But this is clearly not the case. Despite actions taken by the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide, the developing world has massive expansions planned to increase coal consumption. According to a recent report from the World Resources Institute, there are plans to build nearly 1,200 coal-fired power plants in 59 different countries totaling over 1.4 million megawatts. China and India alone account for 76 percent of the proposals.
Developing countries want access to cheap, reliable electricity (especially since many areas do not even have access to electricity) and have more pressing environmental needs. It is simply wishful thinking to assume that these countries would follow America’s lead and curb economic growth to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
3. Revenue Neutrality or a Regulations Swap Is Unrealistic
Two suggestions to garner more bipartisan support for a carbon tax have been to ensure that the tax is revenue neutral by reducing other taxes or to replace the EPA’s regulations of greenhouse gas emissions with the CO2 tax. Both proposals are political impossibilities.
Just the sniff of a new revenue stream to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars annually has the special interests in Washington running to Congress for more handouts. Before carbon tax legislation has even been introduced, ideas on how to use the revenue already include income transfers, paying for defense spending cuts, reducing the deficit, transferring money to developing countries to adapt to climate change and the list goes on. History shows that any time more money comes into the coffers of the federal government, there is a political interest to spend it one way or another.
Some proponents of a carbon tax believe that the tax properly prices the externalities that vex opponents of fossil fuels and, therefore, eliminates the need for regulation of carbon dioxide. By this logic, cap and trade would also have eliminated the need for carbon regulation. However, instead of reducing regulations, the cap-and-trade bills would have added to them. For instance, the Waxman-Markey bill went on for nearly 700 pages before it even began the cap-and-trade section.
Just in case there is any confusion as to whether the left is willing to trade off regulation for a carbon tax, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) recently cleared things up: “A carbon tax or a price on carbon would be a strong incentive for the development of new technologies. But because it’s so complicated, I would not support preempting EPA. EPA can assure us that we can actually get the reductions we need.” In short, a carbon tax would be no substitute for regulation.
Bad Policy All Around
The economic, environmental, and political realities surrounding a carbon tax are clear indications that this is bad policy. Recently, two bipartisan resolutions publicly denounced the possibility of a carbon tax, highlighting the crushing economic and minimal environmental effects of the tax. One resolution, sponsored concurrently by Senator David Vitter (R-LA) and Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS), and a second by Representative David McKinley (R-WV) and co-sponsored by five other Republicans and three Democrats expressed their disapproval of the idea.
Whether the American economy is booming or heading off a fiscal cliff, the right time for a carbon tax is never.
—David W. Kreutzer, PhD, is Research Fellow in Energy Economics and Climate Change in the Center for Data Analysis and Nicolas D. Loris is Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
Federal dominance of western lands sets Americans against each other and fuels anger at Washington, D.C. J.D. Tuccille | January 12, 2016
The only people sillier than the goofballs occupying a shack in the middle of nowhere in Oregon are the bigger loons freaking out over the situation and demanding federal action—even lethal force—in response to this intolerable act of lèse-majesté.
Then again, if it wasn’t for the occupation and the hysterical reaction thereto, would we even be talking about the outrageous sentences handed down to Dwight and Steven Hammond for relatively minor offenses? Would anybody mention the roots of the conflict in decades-old tensions over federal domination of the majority of the West’s land?
The Hammonds are serving five-years in prison after being charged under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (yes, really) for two disputed fires they set that spread from private land onto public land. They had already served lesser sentences after the judge in their case ruled that the minimums required by the law were “grossly disproportionate” to the crime and would “shock his conscience.” But the Justice Department appealed and the 9th Circuit said the draconian mandatory minimum sentence had to be imposed—never mind conscience or proportionality.
Shock his conscience? That’s not a stretch. After all, the offending fires appeared to have inadvertently crossed boundaries. That’s not an uncommon occurrence (though prosecution for it is), and it works both ways. The Tri-State Livestock News reported the recollections of a Bureau of Land Management employee of “other fires accidentally spilling over onto BLM land, but only the Hammonds have been charged, arrested and sentenced… On the flip side, Maupin remembers numerous times that BLM-lit fires jumped to private land. Neighbors lost significant numbers of cattle in more than one BLM fire that escaped intended containment lines and quickly swallowed up large amounts of private land.”
But the feds clearly have a hard-on for the Hammonds. Some BLM employees went so far as to use a government computer to impersonate a former colleague who criticized federal conduct in the case. (The agency in question didn’t seem too troubled about the misuse of its resources.)
“They’re not terrorists,” the impersonated man, retired BLM heavy equipment operator Greg Allum, says of the Hammonds. “There’s this hatred in the BLM for them, and I don’t get it.”
But the “hatred” may be a result of greed—what the Hammonds have, the feds want. The Livestock News story points out that the Hammonds are the last private landowners in an area the government targeted for acquisition and preservation.
“It’s become more and more obvious over the years that the BLM and the wildlife refuge want that ranch. It would tie in with what they have,” Rusty Inglis, a rancher and retired U.S. Forest Service employee, told the publication.
Land fights are nothing new in the West, and fights featuring locals vs. the federal government are increasingly common. When the feds look around to see what else might tie in with what they have, they have to look pretty damned hard to find something that isn’t already under their control.
“61.2% of Alaska is federally owned, as is 46.9% of the 11 coterminous western states. By contrast, the federal government owns 4.0% of lands in the other states,” the Congressional Research Service noted in 2012. “Congress expressly declared that the remaining public domain lands generally would remain in federal ownership” in 1976, the report added.
This land is used for mining, recreation, wildlife preservation, ranching, and simply getting from point A to point B across vast stretches of the country—with the rules set in Washington, D.C. Inevitably, this leads to clashes between people with competing ideas as to how the great outdoors should (and shouldn’t) be used, and between the federal officials making the rules and those living under—and running afoul—of them.
Squabbling over the “right” way to use all of that public land brings out the worst in just about everybody. The temptation is to keep your own costs low while maximizing what you get out of it—a classic tragedy of the commons.
“Decades ago, ranchers grazing their livestock on public lands paid enough fees to earn the Forest Service a profit,” points out Randal O’Toole for the Cato Institute. “But in 1978, ranchers persuaded Congress to adopt a grazing fee formula on national forests and BLM lands that is designed to guarantee ranchers a profit even as grazing costs taxpayers more than $100 million per year.”
Or else, land users just try to exclude those with competing preferences. Travel Management Plans adopted by the Forest Service in recent years have specifically targeted motorized use of public lands, in favor of muscle-powered uses of public property.
“The Forest Service is converting hundreds of square miles of forest land to ‘wilderness’ status by fiat. They will be closing hundreds of miles of roads in our forests that have been open to the public for decades,” Arizona’s Coconino County Sheriff Bill Pribil objected in a widely publicized letter in 2012.
The travel management restrictions overtly target disfavored (by the feds and a faction of users) recreational uses, but they may have larger consequences. While the rules exempt “any fire, military, emergency, or law enforcement vehicle for emergency purposes,” that carve-out is likely to mean little as years pass and access roads become impassable, making fire suppression more difficult in hard-to-reach areas.
Fire in the arid West is already a big concern, and the federal government is often accused of making things worse.
“Idahoans and all Americans will continue paying in many ways for the lack of direction—or misguided direction—that federal laws and policies provide public land managers,” Idaho Governor Butch Otter (R) charged in a column three years ago. “Road systems make it possible for people, engines and bulldozers to respond to fires on the ground so that expensive aerial firefighting resources aren’t the only option.”
The recent Hammond Case has stirred a great deal of outrage and disbelief, but it is just the latest drop in the bucket in a long trail of abuses by the Federal Government, Department of Interior, BLM and Forest Service, with respect to their management of public lands in the West, and the people involved. We have talked about some of the issues before, on multiple occasions. But this particular a story, which we have never shared before, seems to paint the overall picture and modus operendi fairly well — especially in situations where the Federal Government wants to remove someone from the land, and take away their property and property rights.
The Mary Bulloch Story
With her husband Boyd Rucker, Mary operated a ranching operation on the Kaiparowits Plateau, in some of the most rugged, remote, and inhospitable country in the lower forty-eight states. The ranch they operated was located entirely on “public land”—land owned by we the people of the United States and “managed” by the Department of the Interior through the BLM.
After Boyd died, following a bad horse wreck on the ranch, it was all Mary could do to operate and maintain the ranch by herself, with a little part-time help from family, friends and neighbors. When the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was created that encompassed the entire ranch, life really changed for Mary—and not for the better. Land that had long been ignored by the BLM now became a focal point, and Mary was subjected to continual harassment by the BLM. Eventually, it became obvious that the BLM was determined to put her out of business and move her off the land. Although it was suitable for cattle grazing, by any other objective standard the ranch and surrounding area were essentially godforsaken desert, that had little other beneficial use. But under the pretext of drought conditions, the BLM sent Mary a letter stating that all her cattle had to be removed from the ranch by a certain date or be subject to confiscation by the BLM.
Mary had no place else to go. Because of the remoteness, lack of access, and rugged terrain, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to gather her cattle from Fifty Mile Mountain where they grazed in the summertime. Had it been late fall, the cattle would start to come down on their own and could be gathered, but the BLM would not wait until fall. They demanded that all cattle be removed by the end of August. Mary was in a serious bind.
Mary solicited my help. I attempted to reason with the BLM. I also elicited the assistance of Art Tait, a well-respected BLM manager who had always demonstrated a lot of common sense and understanding. Art attempted to work within the agency to mediate a satisfactory resolution, but to no avail. Agency bosses said they were under orders from the top, and were unyielding in their agenda and marching orders. They wanted Mary’s cattle off the range immediately. But Art did manage to secure commitments for a wide range of expensive BLM assistance if Mary would remove her cattle. At the end of the day, Art was so disgusted by the BLM’s attitude, tactics and approach, that ultimately he chose to take early retirement and left the BLM.
Although I considered initiating litigation to seek an injunction, from my perspective what I have often come to describe as the “so-called justice system” was ill-equipped to deal with Mary’s unique situation. Legitimate due process was not even part of the equation. I also knew, from considerable experience, that the thing the justice system is most effective at is consuming resources—resources that Mary Bullock didn’t have. I knew it could consume tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars, and take years before anything was sorted out. Meanwhile, Mary had no money, and the only way she could get money to live or pay attorneys was from the sale of the cattle she was fighting to save.
While I explored other legal and administrative options, the BLM sought to gather, impound and remove Mary’s cattle. At first the BLM tried to gather the cattle using somewhat traditional means. A crew of BLM bureaucrats and mercenary cowboys attempted to gather cattle in a massive operation that ended in dismal failure. Then the government then spent millions of dollars trying to helicopter-net the cattle, which resulted in only mixed success. When they finally got part of the herd into a corral, the BLM transported the cattle without any regard for state livestock identification and transporation laws. It was their position that because of the Supremacy Clause, as a branch of the federal government, they were exempt from any applicable state laws, including livestock brand, identification, and transportation laws. While Mary’s case languished in the administrative process and legal system, the BLM took the cattle to Producers Auction in Salina, to be sold.
Mary, and a small supporting cast of neighboring ranchers, cowboys and friends showed up at the auction to try to buy the cattle back. They had made signs to inform other ranchers and cattle buyers at the sale what was actually going on. At that point, the BLM canceled the sale and informed Sevier County Sheriff, Phil Barney, that he was responsible for securing, feeding, and caring for the cattle until the BLM could decide what to do. Mary felt helpless. I talked to the Sevier County attorney, Don Brown. Among other things. We discussed the U.S. Supreme Court case Printz & Mack v. The United States. The Printz case is a truly landmark but little known Tenth Amendment case in which the court held that the federal government has no constitutional authority to impart orders to a county sheriff.
At that point, Sheriff Barney decided not to take orders from the BLM. He told Mary he wasn’t taking responsibility for the cattle. “What you do with the cattle is up to you,” the sheriff told Mary, “but we’re not going to be put in the middle of it.”
At that point, Mary secured a brand inspection on the impounded cattle in accordance with applicable state laws. With the cattle identified as hers, Mary and the other ranchers loaded them up to take home. At that point it felt like a victory. They were encouraged.
Early the next morning, their enthusiasm came to an abrupt end when Mary and the wives of other ranchers involved started receiving messages from the U.S. Attorney’s Office threatening federal prison terms and $250,000 fines for “stealing federal property.” The messages detailed a number of other related charges, including aiding, abetting, and conspiracy. The ranchers’ wives, with tears streaming down their faces and panic in their voices, passed the news along to their husbands. It was hard to know what to do. The Feds were driving a hard bargain, and although I didn’t believe they had a legal leg to stand on, that didn’t stop them from making serious threats to coerce the ranchers to roll over and give the cattle back.
When Mary Bullock and her small group of supporting ranchers and friends didn’t immediately cave in, the FBI was at their doorstep with well-practiced intimidation tactics. Still, Mary and her Good Samaritan friends stood their ground, which created a standoff that lasted for weeks. The U.S. Attorney’s Office launched a full media blitz against the ranchers, casting them as vigilante outlaws who had “taken the law into their own hands” and characterizing the sheriff as a rogue with no respect for the rule of law.
Despite the precedent articulated in the Printz case, most of the elected officials in Mary’s own county at the time did little to support her and the other local ranchers. State and local government leaders were largely intimidated by the federal government, and their timid response was, “We’d love to help, but we have to work with these people. We’ve got to go along to get along, and we simply can’t survive around here without federal grants and financial support.”
Mary and her small band of rancher-friends felt like David going against Goliath. It was difficult for the ranchers and their families to weigh the risks and stand their ground. Under threats and ultimatums, fearing the Feds were laying groundwork to justify a more forceful—perhaps even violent—pounce, they waited.
Like a high-noon showdown in an old western movie, the sheriff (local officials) and the townspeople had effectively cleared the street, afraid of the federal bully with the big guns. In this modern-day example, many local leaders were so intimidated by the federal government on one hand and so co-opted on the other hand that they didn’t dare raise their voices in support. Among other things, they feared losing federal grants and program funding they had become dependent upon. In an area dominated by federal public land—land, in fact, that is owned by we the people—local leaders had become so accustomed to going along just to get along that they did not dare say or do anything that might cause them to get crossways with the federal government.
In the end, the federal government did not employ tactics used in places such as Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho, but the wait was intense because how were Mary and the other ranchers to know how far the government would go? The ranchers and their families could have easily woken up to an army of drawn guns in their faces after their doors had been kicked in at dawn by federal agents.
Sound far-fetched? If you think so, talk to residents of San Juan County, Utah, who were accused of violating federal antiquities laws on public lands.
Read more in this article about vicious BLM thug, Daniel P. Love, by clicking here!
“With more than 50 percent of the West in federal holdings (only four percent in the East), Congress and agencies in gridlock, and judges and environmental [special-interest] groups taking over federal-land management, hope of preventing future massive fires is bleak, without serious radical change. Currently, there is little incentive to return to commonsense management of our God-given natural resources with which the American West has been blessed. Those who live on and with the land have understood and practiced stewardship for generations.”
“We have some 73 million acres of national forest lands at risk from wildland fires that could compromise human safety and ecosystem integrity…. The situation is simply not sustainable—not socially, not economically, not ecologically.”
— Chief Dale Bosworth, U.S. Forest Service, 2003
Dale Bosworth, former chief of the USFS, may have recognized the problem in 2003, now, 12 years later, this situation has become even more ominous, according to a comprehensive special report in RANGE magazine. In explicit detail, the overview reveals the bureaucratic failures that are killing people and destroying homes, livelihoods, lands and wildlife, and the efforts by special-interest groups to block solutions—and in the process make money at taxpayers’ expense.
RANGE, which concentrates on commonsense solutions to problems affecting people who produce food for 300 million Americans, was recently awarded a third consecutive Freedom of the Press award.
“With more than 50 percent of the West in federal holdings (only four percent in the East), Congress and agencies in gridlock, and judges and environmental [special-interest] groups taking over federal-land management, hope of preventing future massive fires is bleak, without serious radical change. Currently, there is little incentive to return to commonsense management of our God-given natural resources with which the American West has been blessed. Those who live on and with the land have understood and practiced stewardship for generations.”
During 2015, throughout the West, local, state, and federal resources became overwhelmed, and by mid September, more than 8.8-million acres had burned—three times the acreage compared to 2014. Drought is a contributing factor, but the loss of life and charred landscapes can be traced directly to federal policies put in place from the 1990s to the present that are annihilating the West.
The lack of government land management has also given special-interest groups the means to pursue their own agendas with endless, time-consuming lawsuits and appeals. Inexplicably, each time federal agencies lose or settle a lawsuit, taxpayers are forced to reward the groups with Equal Access to Justice Act funds—thus “rewarding” them for their part in a deadly situation they helped create. Money needed to file their next lawsuit.
“Firefighting on federal land has become a big business with little incentive to put fires out early but, as with everything else, if it doesn’t make common sense, then follow the money,” writes Judy Boyle, one of the report’s three authors. Boyle is an Idaho state legislator and former natural resources director for Congressman Helen Chenoweth-Hage. The two other contributors include Andrea Scott, a southern Idaho writer who looks at the aftermath of wildfires, and range-management expert Steven H. Rich, who reports on the lessons not learned from the nation’s first mega-fire in Arizona that killed six firefighters, burned 24,000 acres and destroyed 63 homes in June 1990.
Boyle cites a series of operational failures by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS)—misjudgment that led to horrific destruction. She reports:
Owyhee County, Idaho: On Aug. 10, 2015, first responders and ranchers fought a blaze for 36 hours, containing it to 640 acres. The BLM arrived to mop up, sent the volunteers home, pronounced the fire was out, only to have it blow up into the largest in the nation at the time, devastating more than 285,000 acres.
A lightning strike in Canyon Creek near John Day, Ore., was fought by local ranchers and contained at 200 acres. When the federal government took over, the fire eventually threatened the towns of John Day and Prairie City, destroying ranches, 26 homes, cattle, and wildlife over 105,000 acres.
Federal workers were called to assess the situation northeast of New Meadows, Idaho, when lightning struck a large yellow pine tree. They didn’t extinguish the blaze and simply left. During the night, the tree burned in half, rolled down the mountain, and spread the fire. The result was the TeePee Fire, 94,000 acres, which threatened the towns of Riggs and New Meadows, jumped the Big Salmon River, and trapped rafters upriver, and obliterating valuable resources and wildlife.
In Montana, the governor protested to the USFS when state firefighting helicopters were refused permission for an initial attack on the North Fork Fire. Those Montana experts were forced to remain on the ground watching the devastation until federal helicopters arrived—four hours later. The state helicopters could have been there in 30 minutes.
Boyle summarizes, “With more than 50 percent of the West in federal holdings (only four percent in the East), Congress and agencies in gridlock, and judges and environmental [special-interest] groups taking over federal-land management, hope of preventing future massive fires is bleak, without serious radical change. Currently, there is little incentive to return to commonsense management of our God-given natural resources with which the American West has been blessed. Those who live on and with the land have understood and practiced stewardship for generations.
“There are intelligent, honest environmentalists who truly want to do what is best for the natural landscape,” she writes. “Then there are those whose real motives are the removal of man. The founder of Western Watersheds Project often publicly stated that his motive was to end ranching in the West. Other groups worship creation rather than the Creator, believing nothing should be touched by man.
“If they must destroy the natural environment to accomplish their goal, so be it,” Boyle writes.
A digital version of the detailed Special Report, “Destruction of the West,” can be found by visiting RANGE’s home page at www.rangemagazine.com.
In 2002, the federal government seized Raymond Yowell’s 132 cattle and later sold them at auction before the U.S. Bureau of Labor Management sent him a bill for $180,000 in back grazing fees and penalties. Twelve years later, Yowell, seen here in 2011, told FoxNews.com he’s still looking for the ‘equality and justice’ he heard about as a schoolboy. (AP)
Long before Cliven Bundy faced down federal agents in his dispute with the Bureau of Land Management over grazing rights, fellow Nevada rancher Raymond Yowell, an 84-year-old former Shoshone chief, watched as the BLM seized his herd.
Adding to that, since 2008 they’ve taken his money as well — in the form of a piece of his Social Security checks.
Yowell’s 132 head of cattle had grazed for decades on the South Fork Western Shoshone Indian Reservation in northeastern Nevada until 2002, when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) — the same agency at odds with Bundy — seized them. The federal agency sold the cattle at auction and used the proceeds to pay off the portion of back grazing fees it claimed Yowell owed. Once the cattle was sold, the agency sent Yowell a bill for the outstanding balance, some $180,000. They’ve been garnishing his monthly Social Security checks since 2008 to satisfy the debt Yowell says he does not owe.
“There’s a definite pattern in the West, beginning in the 1990s, maybe in the late ’80s, of what I feel are illegal cattle seizures,” Yowell said. “[Bundy’s case] is the latest example of that pattern.”
While Bundy is defying the federal agency over fees for grazing cattle on government-owned land, Yowell’s cattle had roamed reservation land. But a 1979 Supreme Court decision held that even land designated for Indian reservations is held in trust for them, and thus subject to BLM regulation. Yowell says treaties that led to creation of the reservation granted him and other herdsmen the right to graze cattle on the land, which they did successfully for decades. The Western Shoshone say they have never relinquished their right to the territory.
Yowell represented himself in a successful effort to win a federal injunction to stop the BLM from impounding his cattle, as well as a subsequent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that reversed the lower court. He’s again representing himself in a petition to have the U.S. Supreme Court hear his case, in which he argues his cattle were taken without due process and in violation of multiple treaties.
“Certainly, due process of law has not been followed in my case,” Yowell told FoxNews.com. “When we were kids going to school, learning the white way, we said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning and one of the things I remember saying is ‘equality and justice for all.’ Well that’s certainly not the case.”
Celia Boddington, a BLM spokeswoman, said she had no comment on the pending case. But the BLM has previously said the tribe’s Te-Moak Livestock Association held a federal permit to graze cattle on the public land from 1940 to 1984, but had stopped paying required fees in 1984, when it asserted the tribe rightfully owned the land.
Last week, the U.S. Solicitor General’s Office, which represents the federal government in disputes before the Supreme Court, was granted an extension in Yowell’s case even as the Bundy situation was making national headlines. Federal attorneys are due to file a response to Yowell’s petition for a writ of certiorari on June 4.
While the Bundy case is not exactly the same as Yowell’s, the parallels are obvious in the The Silver State and beyond. Bundy’s dispute, like Yowell’s, dates back decades to when the government designated the scenic Gold Butte region, where Bundy’s cattle graze, as protected habitat for endangered desert tortoise and slashed his allotment of cows. He then quit paying grazing fees to BLM, which canceled his grazing permit and ordered him to remove his 380 cattle.
Yowell said he sees some “commonality” between his fight and Bundy’s, but stressed his claim to the land is further strengthened by the Treaty of Ruby Valley of 1863, which formally recognized Western Shoshone rights to some 60 million acres in Nevada, Idaho, Utah and California. In 1979, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the treaty gave the government trusteeship over tribal lands and could eventually claim them as “public” or federal land.
“His feeling is that he’s acquired certain rights and now his rights are being violated by the Bureau of Land Management,” Yowell said. “But I have Indian rights, treaty rights that he doesn’t have.”
Yowell, who has separately sued the BLM and the Treasury Department for $30 million, said the U.S Treasury Department began garnishing his Social Security in 2008 check at BLM’s behest.
“They’re entitled to take up to 15 percent of what I get,” said Yowell, who receives $962 of what should be an $1,150 check per month. “And that’s what they’re doing.”
Yowell, who retired in 2006 and turned what remained of his ranching business over to his 50-year-old son, said his legal fight is his “legacy,” even though it has already left him with a jaded view of the white man’s government.
“It’s diminished my feeling, my view of the government,” Yowell told FoxNews.com. “They don’t practice what they say.”
‘Over the past two decades . . . government officials, and perhaps [others], entered into a literal, intentional conspiracy to deprive [the family members] not only of their [grazing] permits but also of their vested water rights. This behavior shocks the conscience.” These are not the words of the embattled Hammond family in Harney County, Ore., nor their noisy defenders who made headlines with their illegal occupation of a few buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge — actions the Hammonds do not support — nor even conservatives who see another Sagebrush Rebellion spreading across the American West. Instead, they are the thoughtful words of Nevada chief federal district-court judge Robert C. Jones in a painstakingly thorough 104-page decision in May 2013 following a 21-day trial held in 2012 in Reno.
Judge Jones ruled in a lawsuit filed pro se by Wayne N. Hage, defending the estate of E. Wayne Hage, his father, against two huge federal land-management agencies — the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service — and their employees, all represented by scores of lawyers from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Agriculture. (The federal lawyers’ appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was argued last month.)
As National Review’s David French has chronicled, the Hammond travails over the decades mirror the fearful path trod by the late Wayne Hage and his family, except for the substitution in the Hammonds’ case of yet another federal land-management agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, which runs the national wildlife refuge surrounding their ranch.
Unfortunately, federal agencies’ abuse of the citizenry is not uncommon. In 2007, a third of a continent away, but still within the vast expanse of America where federal land ownership predominates — reaching two-thirds and more of some states and over 90 percent of some rural counties (72 percent of Harney County is federally owned) — a similar battle raged in Wyoming. Unlike the Hammonds in Oregon or the Hages in Nevada, the case of Harvey Frank Robbins and a federal agency “run amok,” in the words of a BLM employee, reached the Supreme Court of the United States. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the BLM “made a careless error:”
After obtaining an easement to use a private road across the ranch owned by Robbins’s predecessor, federal officials failed to record it. Thus, when Robbins bought the ranch, he did not know about the easement, and, under Wyoming law, he took title free of it. Thereupon, BLM officials, wrote Ginsburg, “demanded from Robbins an easement — for which they did not propose to pay — to replace the one they carelessly lost.” When Robbins offered to negotiate an agreement, they told him “the Federal Government does not negotiate” and “this is what you are going to do.” When he refused, he became, according to Ginsburg, the target of “a seven-year campaign of relentless harassment and intimidation to force [him] to give in.” When Robbins offered to negotiate an agreement, they told him, ‘the Federal Government does not negotiate.’ After two appearances each before the federal district court in Wyoming and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Robbins reached the Supreme Court in his effort to hold federal employees accountable for violating his constitutional rights to exclude them from his land and for trying to extort an easement from him.
Sadly, Justice Ginsburg did not write the majority opinion; her outrage on Robbins’s behalf was a lonely dissent; instead, Justice David Souter, on behalf of the Court, held that Robbins had no cause of action. He admitted that Robbins had suffered a “death by a thousand cuts,” in “endless battling” that “depletes the spirit along with the purse,” but concluded that the rights of citizens to be protected from “illegitimate pressure” by “unduly zealous” bureaucrats was balanced against the government’s need for “zeal on the public’s behalf.” Fearing that granting Robbins relief “could well take the starch out of regulators who are supposed to bargain and press demands vigorously on behalf of the Government and the public,” the Court held Congress was in a “better position” to provide relief if it saw fit.
In the years since the 2007 ruling, however, Congress has done nothing to protect citizens from “unduly zealous” — meaning “lawless” — bureaucrats and the taxpayer-funded lawyers who defend them. It is not just Congress — which could conduct oversight hearings, investigate abuses, hold officials and lawyers accountable, and constrain budgetary authority — that did nothing.
The abuses by bureaucrats in the field far from Washington — instigated, and aided and abetted, by environmental extremists, both local and national — of the Hammonds, the Hages, and Robbins occurred either knowingly or negligently during the administrations of Republican and Democrat presidents alike. For example, in 2005, a man who became a client of Mountain States Legal Foundation and prevailed after a nine-year battle before five federal courts was told by federal lawyers that his property rights and legal precedents were irrelevant. He had what they wanted and they would take the case to the Supreme Court to get it. They did but they lost.
As anyone who has the federal government as a neighbor knows — whether in northwestern Montana, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas — federal land managers and their lawyers make the worst people to have next door. The federal government, which owns a third of the country, acts not just as a landowner; it behaves as sovereign too, especially when it sends its lawyers into court. The Canons of Ethics purport to regulate the behavior of those lawyers, providing that: “A government lawyer . . . has the responsibility to seek justice . . . and he should not use . . . the economic power of the government to . . . bring about unjust settlements or results.” Moreover, Supreme Court justice George Sutherland, Utah’s only Supreme Court Justice, wrote, “The United States Attorney is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest . . . is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.” “It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful [result] as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one,” Sutherland concluded.
Regrettably, in my experience, federal lawyers seek not justice, but to win and to win at all cost. Regrettably, in my experience, federal lawyers seek not justice, but to win and to win at all cost, which includes: Failing to conduct due diligence before defending federal employees named personally for wrongdoing, withholding documents, misstating or suppressing legal authority, and misrepresenting facts during oral argument. Where are the Canons or Justice Sutherland’s command then, or perhaps more important, where is the disciplining from senior attorneys, supervisory officials — many confirmed by the Senate — or state bars?
That federal lawyers have “run amok,” much like the bureaucrats they defend, is evident, not just from my experience, but also from the fact that the Hammonds were charged, not with trespassing on 140 acres of federal property with the backfire they started to protect their land, but with terrorism! The Oregon district-court judge trying the case saw the outrage and the injustice but was reversed by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit. Meanwhile, where were senior officials at the U.S. Department of Justice and where were their overseers in Congress, which had ample opportunity to question the legal proceedings in Oregon during the confirmation of Attorney General Loretta Lynch? Silent as always! No wonder fury builds at the injustice being done in the West. — William Perry Pendley, an attorney, is president of Mountain States Legal Foundation in Denver and author of Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan’s Battle with Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today.
PROTECTING THE WEST FROM ITS PROTECTORS Posted on May 20, 2014 by Dan Dagget
In 1980 when I first moved to the West, to Flagstaff, Arizona, one of the first things I did was become involved as an environmentalist and join the Sierra Club and, shortly thereafter, Earth First! I was excited about my new home, about the mountains, canyons, rivers, and wide open spaces, and wanted to keep those things as spectacular, healthy, open and free as possible.
At the time I arrived, one of the hottest environmental issues was grazing private livestock on public lands. Grazing livestock on land both public and private was claimed to be the most damaging activity humans had brought to the West. As one environmental group put it:
“The ecological costs of livestock grazing exceed that of any other western land use.”
Livestock grazing was blamed for endangering species, destroying vegetation, damaging wildlife habitats, disrupting natural processes, and wreaking ecological havoc on riparian areas, rivers, deserts, grasslands and forests alike. What most caught my attention about this campaign against public lands grazing were the photos of denuded, eroded, cowturd-littered landscapes. Those photos served as one of the most effective tools for communicating the damage described above to those, like me, who were most likely to be concerned and recruited.
Here are a couple:
To make a long story short, I got involved in the campaign to protect public lands, wrote a couple of books about the topic in regards to range lands (actually about environmentalists and ranchers working together), and ended up enjoying a fairly rewarding speaking career about the matter.
Over time, the furor over public lands grazing has lost much of its intensity. Although grazing continues on public lands, it is highly regulated and significantly reduced. In fact, it has been totally removed from many areas where it had been standard operating procedure for more than a century. Also, Global Warming/Climate Change has replaced it (as well as a number of other issues) at the top of the eco-issues hit parade.
Living in Arizona, and remaining just as concerned about the mountains, canyons, rivers, and wide open spaces that have been my home now for 34 years, I have continued to keep track of the areas I made such a big deal about as a wilderness advocate and crusader for “healthy ecosystems.” As a result, I have something to report that may surprise you. It certainly surprised me.
The surprise is, the problems purportedly caused by grazing haven’t gone away even where grazing has. In fact, they have become worse, so much worse that a significant portion of Western rangelands may be in worse shape today than they were when the campaign to protect them was at its hottest. What is different, however, is that the responsibility for the deteriorated condition of the western range has shifted — reversed, in fact. Now it is protection and regulation and the advocates of those policies that are wreaking havoc on our natural heritage.
This is something you have to see to understand — and to believe.
Having noticed the poor and deteriorating condition of the rangelands near my home in Sedona and on trips as far afield as Big Bend National Park in Texas and Jasper National Park in Canada, I started taking photographs to confirm my concern. First, I took photos of the most eye-catching (and mind-blowing) examples of degradation on lands that are now “protected” but were grazed in the past. That ignited my curiosity, and inspired me to start ferreting out old photographs of those exact same places while they were being grazed. These I located via local U.S. Forest Service offices, museums, books, and the internet. I even copied some from old movies (An old Elvis movie — “Stay Away Joe” was one of my sources).
One of the first “before and after” comparisons that caught my eye is illustrated by the following pair of photos from along a favorite hiking trail near Sedona. The first photo (courtesy of the Sedona Heritage Museum) was taken on 12/29/1957. Grazing was ended on this site shortly after this photo was taken.
The next photo shows the exact same place in 2012 after 55 years of protection from grazing. The mountain on the upper right in the first photo (Courthouse Butte) doesn’t show above the trees in the second photo because the trees are bigger, and the point where I took the re-photo is lower than the original photo point, according to my rough calculations, due to 3 to 4 feet of soil erosion.
Next, I located some old U. S. Forest Service photos of old rangeland monitoring sites used to evaluate the effects of management (in this case grazing) on Forest Service lands. Here’s an example — a photo taken in 1963, also near Sedona, of an area that had been grazed for more than 50 years.
In 1963 the grass was short (most likely it had recently been grazed), but you can see the plants were close together, the coverage was fairy complete, and there was little evidence of erosion.
I even located a photo of a 3 foot square frame by means of which the plants in a certain part of the transect were identified, recorded, and mapped to enable the USFS to accurately read and record any change that happened. Forty-nine years later (2012) I took a photo of that exact same site. I even relocated (and re-photoed) the frame. According to the best information I can find, grazing was removed from this area “before 1981,” so, at the time of the re-photo, the area had been protected for 30+ years.
Interestingly, a U. S Forest Service Range staffer, upon visiting this site with me in 2013, and comparing what she saw with the 1963 photographs said, “Well, The grass looks healthier now than it did back then, except where there isn’t any.” ”Where there isn’t any” is just about everywhere.
To shed a little more light on what is happening here, I included a photo of the land just to the left of the monitoring site. (That’s the same location stake.)
Left for Upload To give an even bigger picture of what’s happening here I’ve included a photo from nearby on the same grazing allotment.
From the look of the exposed tree roots and freshly toppled trees it appears safe to say that erosion continues in this area in spite of the fact that it is being protected and has been for 30+ years. (I would also add it’s just as obvious that protection isn’t doing much to heal the area.)
Seeing devastation of this degree I couldn’t help but wonder: Were the effects of “overgrazing” anywhere near as bad as the effects of protection? To answer that question, I started searching the Web for those denuded, eroded, cowturd-littered images that were used to make the case against public lands grazing. I wanted to compare the effects of the activity whose “ecological costs exceed that of any other western land use” with the impacts of the remedy that was supposed to return the West to conditions the protectionists described as “pristine nature.”
This is where things really got surprising — the great majority of those “cows destroy the West” photos were mild, ho-hum, no big deal in comparison. Some even looked like positive impact photos. Here’s the collection of images that resulted from one of those Google searches.
When that collection of photos showed up on my computer screen I couldn’t help but wonder: Is this what so outraged me and recruited me thirty years ago? Is this the best they’ve got? It must be, I concluded. These are the images that were published in books like Welfare Ranching, and Waste of the West. These are the photos that are on the websites of the groups still making the case to remove grazing from public lands. So, If environmental groups were so concerned about the effects of grazing on public lands in this photo, for instance:
From Mike Hudak’s Photo Gallery of Ranching on Western Public Lands “This drainage in a heavily grazed field has eroded to a width of five feet.”
Why do we not hear a peep from them about the apparently much more damaging effects of protection on public lands in, for instance, this photo?
This drainage, in an area that has been protected from grazing for more than 30 years, has eroded to a depth of more than ten feet.
Another comparison — same question: If environmental groups are concerned about the effects of grazing on public lands in this photo:
From Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West — LIFEBLOOD OF THE WEST Riparian Zones, Biodiversity, and Degradation by Livestock, by J. Boone Kauffman, Ph.D “This stream in northern New Mexico has become “entrenched.” Over time, grazing and trampling of the soils and banks by livestock have caused the stream to widen and cut downward.”
What about this?
Talk about entrenched!!! This is the Coconino National Forest White Hills Erosion Control Study Plot protected since 1935 (78 years and counting). (Photo courtesy of the Coconino National Forest)
What do these comparisons tell us? Well, one thing they seem to make clear is that, for those of us who are truly concerned about restoring and sustaining the ecological health of the rangelands of the American West, we’re spending our money and our energy in the wrong place. Instead of campaigning to protect the public lands of the West from grazing, we ought to be protecting them from, well, “protection,” which may qualify as the real “most damaging activity humans have brought to the West”
One thing that qualifies protection for this distinction is that the damage it causes is not only more severe, it is more permanent — more permanent because it is a one way street. Ask protectionist groups what they can or will do to heal the damage shown in the photo of me looking up through those protected tree roots or that fellow peering out from that huge eroded gully in the White Hills Study Plot, and the great majority of them will tell you, “Protect it longer.” One activist has told me, “It might take more than a lifetime.” The White Hills Study Plot has been protected for 78 years. That sounds like a lifetime to me.
I’ve written books and articles about ranchers who have healed damage greater than anything shown among the “grazing destroys the West” photos by using their management practices and their animals as the means to perform that healing. In fact, I’ve done some of those restorations myself. Those restorations took days instead of lifetimes. In fact, I have some dynamite photos. See the photo sequence below.
Before (This would make a good “Cows destroy the West” photo. Watch the skyline these photos were taken in the same place (within a couple of feet).
During We added seeds, hay for mulch and to attract the cattle, and then the cows did the planting, mulching, and tilling for us
The results! Not bad, eh?
To their credit a few environmental groups and collaborative associations are using those grazing-to-heal techniques today. I suspect that, in some cases, they’re even using them to heal the effects of protection. But to heal damage, you have to be able to see it, be aware that it is there, and you have to want to heal it.
Environmentalists have trouble seeing the damage they cause because they suffer from a type of blindness of which they have accused ranchers for as long as I’ve been involved in this issue. Environmentalists accuse ranchers of being blind to the damage they cause to the land because they (ranchers) consider what they do (raise food for people by using resources they believe God gave us just for that purpose) so valuable and so righteous that they refuse to see, just plain ignore, or consider irrelevant the damage it causes.
This phenomenon — being rendered blind to the damage you cause by your own feelings of righteousness — is a more accurate description of an affliction that plagues the green side of the aisle. When environmentalists say, “We all want to protect the environment,” they use the word “protect” in its vague general sense: “to protect from hurt, injury, overuse, or whatever may cause or inflict harm.” The idea that “protecting” in this sense could cause harm to anything doesn’t make any sense. How could saving something from harm cause it harm? If you peel away this blindfold of righteous semantics, however, as the photographs in this article have done, it becomes evident that the ecological impacts of “protection” may actually “exceed that of any other western land use” including grazing.
The implications of this are clear… If environmental groups and government agencies truly want to achieve their stated mission — to protect the environment from whatever may cause or inflict harm — they’ll have to open their eyes to the damage caused by what they call “protection.” And hold this environmentalist panacea as accountable as any other land management method.