Armed extremists occupying Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon's high desert continue to argue that our public lands be handed over to states or private interests to expand economic exploitation. The sound bite media coverage of this occupation sometimes frames this standoff in a way that fails to convey what is at stake for you and me - the public. The militia are attempting to rob us of our public lands using force and intimidation, threatening to fire upon any law enforcement effort to renew our access to the occupied lands. The militia's alternative is to return to a corrupt giveaway of public lands that only leads to destruction and privatization of our natural heritage, a trend we had decided decades ago was not in our national interest.
The militia say they are speaking for the public, but they are actually speaking for a small slice of the population that wants to do what they want with our lands without limitations or costs. They'd like to let their cattle mow down stream side vegetation and ruin our waterways, or log our forests in a way that would leave our mountains bare. They want to drill and blast away canyons for uranium mining. They may wear jeans and cowboy hats, but their mentality is no different than Brightsource Energy or Exxon Mobil executives in suits and ties. In the interest of profit, they would rather create a Tragedy of the Commons than propose science-based alternatives that would balance economic interests with the long-term heath of our public lands. Nancy Langston's piece on the history of commercial exploitation and land management at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge further underscores that the militia is simply selling another brand of snake oil.
And despite the militia's complaints that land use regulations amount to "tyranny," the Bureau of Land Management still administers nearly 18,000 grazing permits on nearly 155 million acres of public lands. The cost of grazing on public land is 93% cheaper than on private land, and receives many other taxpayer subsidies. The Forest Service in 2014 allowed the removal of nearly 2.8 billion board feet of timber. This is in addition to the millions of acres opened up to natural gas, coal, solar and wind. There is no shortage of representation in Washington that caters to industry and agricultural uses of our public lands, which makes the Bundy militia's claim that public land is off limits to extractive industry all the more ironic.
I don't always agree with how the Department of Interior manages our public lands, but there is no doubt in my mind that handing our lands over to the states or private interests - as the militia has argued - would spell doom for the spectacular natural treasures that make America special. Some states and local jurisdictions have made it very clear that they would hand over public land to industry if given the chance, rather than manage our beautiful wildlands for the benefit of all Americans. To this end, organizations like ALEC have carried out legislative and legal campaigns to privatize our public lands with the help of some misguided elected officials. Apparently they can count on the Bundy militia to be the thugs that point the guns at the public during this takeover.