It’s time the rest of us start insisting upon our public property rights
By Kyle Magin
No matter where you live in America, you’ve got a bigass back yard. You may not be able to see it from your gridded neighborhood in Houston or light-rail stop in Seattle (on days when Rainier is clouded) but it’s there. The Bureau of Land Management administers about a quarter billion acres for you from low desert grazing to high mountain wilderness areas to Great Lakes shoreline. The National Park System keeps an eye on another 84.4 million acres.
That land, as the song goes, is your land. You pay taxes for its upkeep every year. Whether you choose to use it or not is up to you–but it’s there for you to just drive, bike, swim up to or walk on any time you feel like it. It’s a pretty neat concept. Ken Burns calls it America’s Best Idea, and I’m inclined to agree with him.
There are groups of Americans, personified by deadbeat Nevada rancher/John Wayne casket-humper Cliven Bundy who are hell bent on abusing your backyard for their personal gain. For a brief re-set, Bundy and his sons, Ammon and Ryan (how’d he win the family name lottery?) staged an armed standoff with BLM authorities in 2014 when the feds came to round up the cattle Bundy was illegally grazing on public land without paying about $1 million in grazing fees over 20 years. Hillbillies from far and wide came to Bundy’s defense and openly pointed weapons at federal officers. The feds backed down because it’s not a great look to start blowing away crackers in an era when every dipshit with a trigger finger thinks he was put on earth for the divine mission of defending the second amendment and harassing any law enforcement officer who isn’t slaying black guys for existing in the inner cities.
It was the spirit of Bundy and the man himself who led the charge for his backwoods militia sons and cronies to occupy a wildlife refuge in Oregon early this year. Bundy’s leadership led directly to the death of his disciple LaVoy Finicum January 26 at the hands of the FBI. He may as well have pulled the trigger. Bundy was arrested Thursday morning after stepping off a plane in Portland to head to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge where the remaining holdouts that originally included his two arrested sons were negotiating their surrender to FBI authorities. Bundy was arrested in connection to the 2014 standoff.
Throw the book at him and lock him away for the rest of his life.
- Bundy threatened the lives of federal officers. This one is pretty self-explanatory, but Cliven Bundy went onto your land, illegally, and turned a profit on it then nearly went Red Dawn on the officers who came to dislodge him for failing to take accountability for the monetary damages he had incurred. This is the same thing as a thief coming to your house, stealing your stuff, then staging and winning a shootout with your city’s cops because he had more guns and more accomplices willing to fire them.
- Bundy abuses your land. BLM acreage is available for many uses from quiet time in nature to wildlife protection to hunting and fishing to oil and gas drilling to Burning Man to yes, grazing. The deal is this: the federal government leases out the land for private ranchers to feed their herds and in turn, us. But, the land can only take so much pressure, so to adequately care for it–prevent fires, ensure water sources are protected especially in times of drought, ensure plant and wildlife health–BLM officials charge ranchers a per-head fee on their herd, annually. Most ranchers realize the range must be protected and replenished and accept this fee. Cliven Bundy does not. Cliven Bundy would like to push his herds across your land, for free, as he has done for two decades in Southern Nevada. He’s like the neighbor who lets his dog shit in your yard without ever cleaning it up, but instead of a dog it’s 1,500 future steaks.
- Bundy is abusing your public property rights and he has followers. Bundy’s followers will crow until the cows come home (to their *free* rangeland!) about respecting private property rights. They would stand their ground with a loaded firearm the second a trespasser came onto land in their families’ names. But they have no respect for your public property, in fact they’d like to take it from you and no, they would not like to pay for it. They’ll bitch, LOUDLY, if some Land Trust wanted to use a lawful easement crossing the backside of their property to build an equestrian trail. This may seem like a negligible thing in Southern Nevada, where great heaps of land are pretty much devoid of human habitation. But, it’s not. If the Bundys can win in Nevada and Eastern Oregon, what’s to stop frackers from asking for rights inside Theodore Roosevelt National Park? What’s to stop cattlemen from pushing their herds into the fertile, rich high mountain meadows of Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks? What’s to stop these nutcases from setting up a gun range alongside your favorite running trail? Bundy must be made a stern example of because he’s a dangerous asshole. If you don’t respond to his armed treason, you may have to respond to other uprisings in the public spaces we both own and hold dear. So, my hope for whatever federal prosecutor gets his hands on this case is that he buries Bundy and his followers so deep they can’t see the light of day. That he be made to account for threatening his fellow citizens with deadly force. That repercussions come for stealing our land and mistreating it.
This land is our land, Mr. Bundy, and you can get the hell off it and take up residence in our prison.