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Western ranchers have plenty of grazing lands issues to be resolved but armed takeovers of bird sanctuaries won't fix them

Walt Davis 1, Editor

January 10, 2016

4 Min Read

The mess over grazing lands rights going on in Oregon has caught a lot of national attention and more than a few people I respect are defending the actions of the militants who decided the best way to petition for a redress of grievances was to take up arms and occupy a federal bird sanctuary.

There are real and legitimate reasons to question the waygrazing lands leases are currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

There are real and legitimate issues about the handling and timing of environmental restrictions and how they impact the ability of western ranchers to continue to make a living with ever-changing grazing lands rules and restrictions.

There are real and legitimate questions about whether some of the public grazing lands in the west should be made available for private purchase.

There are real and legitimate reasons to question whether or not the punishment fits the crime in the case of the Harney County ranchers who reported to prison to serve out the remainder of a mandatory 5-year jail term in January.

There is no real or legitimate reason to lay claim to personal ownership of federal grazing lands because your cattle have been grazing there for 30 years -- or even 50 years or 100 years. Land that you LEASE does not BELONG to you. Not even if a "constitutional scholar and talk show host" says that the Constitution of the United States says the federal government has no right to it and some law passed by Congress back in 1908, gone unchallenged for more than 100 years, is invalid.

Being angry because an agency of the federal government showed up after 20 years and $1 million in unpaid grazing fees and tried to collect a debt from your deadbeat family a year ago does not give you a real or legitimate reason for the armed takeover of a federal wildlife refuge in another state. Not even if your greeting them with shotguns and militia support made them back down rather than inflict a bloodbath.

The reality is there is a right way and a wrong way to go about settling a dispute.

Most of the ranchers of Oregon have chosen the right way. They want to change rules and regulations through a legal process. The Hammonds, the Harney County ranchers facing an unreasonable prison term hope to invoke Presidential clemency by calling attention to several elements of unfairness in their trial and sentencing.

A few very angry, very hostile, very ENTITLED people from outside the state have chosen to do it the wrong way -- with guns and threats of "kill or be killed" in the takeover "for years if necessary" of a federal bird sanctuary established during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, which by the way included the establishment of the National Park system.

Declaring the action of Congress that did that unconstitutional would put every national park and forest in the whole United States up for sale.

Anybody have a bid for Old Faithful? Maybe all of Yellowstone? How about we divide up the Grand Canyon and sell it off?

Anybody in Kansas think the Texas cattlemen who have leased the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve at Strong City for the last upteen years should just get title to it?

When you listen to that "federal government right to property in article and clause of the Constitution" rant making the waves around social media, think a bit beyond the time of the people writing the Constitution, maybe just a few decades, and the laws that Congress passed back then about protecting  the amazing resources and landmarks of this nation for the future generations of Americans just might make a lot of sense. Maybe the wisdom of our "founding fathers" doesn't lie just with them but with succeeding generations of leaders who had a vision for what the future might hold and what future generations might not only need, but cherish.

And maybe the best hope of all of us who support a fairer and more just treatment for the ranchers who lease federal lands in the west lies with the legitimate legal process. Let's hope that the actions of a few people with their own agenda of rebellion doesn't create an environment that precludes that outcome.

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