What's Behind the Standoff at Oregon's Wildlife Refuge

In addition to the Keystone Pipeline rearing its ugly head again, we’re seeing the right-wing vision of privatizing our public lands move ahead.

The standoff by armed gunmen at a 100-year old wildlife refuge in Oregon follows a vote by the US Senate to return ALL 700 million acres of federal public land to the states – all our national forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas and national monuments. Every piece of land would be up for grabs except national parks.

The idea, apparently, is gathering steam.

According to Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) amendment – which passed the Senate along party lines – states wouldn’t buy the land, the federal government would pay to transfer it to them. From there, states would either manage it (for a profit) or sell it to the highest private sector bidders for oil and gas development, mining and grazing.

In the House, this is a priority for Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), Chair of the Natural Resources Committee. He wants to spend $50 million of taxpayer money to start the process immediately. Utah passed a law to that effect last year.

Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge: Oregon Malheur National Wildlife RefugeThe refuge protects a huge variety of migrating birds because of its wetlands. What if private citizens or corporations decide they would rather drain it?

We would say good-bye to caring for wildlife, habitats and public land in the US if it were up to the Republican party. Instead, we would see mass extraction – fracking, mining, grazing, everywhere – and of course, any animals that get in the way would have to be exterminated.

That’s why Republicans allowed the Land and Water Conservation Fund to expire for the first time in 50 years, until Democrats fought to include it in the budget passed in December. Republicans view a fund that purchases and protects lands as a "federal land grab." The rest of us perceive it as protecting nature.

There are clearly two very different points of view. Last year we saw it through the standoff between Cliven Bundy and the govenment – which has yet to be resolved. He grazed his cattle on federally protected land for a decade without paying a penny – as if he owned it, which he does not. Even the ridiculously low grazing fees – criticized for decades – aren’t low enough for him.

In the case of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, it was designated under Teddy Roosevelt in 1908 to protect migratory birds from extinction because of the fad at the time – using feathers to make hats. He turned unclaimed government property into the refuge – it was never privately owned, unless you go back to the 1970s, when the Paiute Indians were forced to leave their land.

The underlying question is: should all land and water be open to anyone for any purpose they choose? Or do we have a responsibility to protect areas for nature and for society as a whole?

It’s not as if these lands are closed off. Much of the mining, natural gas, grazing and hunting in the US takes place on public lands, including wildlife refuges. Many of us would like to see that stopped.

We have seen what happens when states take control – they have killed over 3000 wolves over the past few years for no reason, and now grizzly bears could meet the same fate. The same states – Wyoming, Idaho and Montana – now want open season on grizzly bears – they want them off the Endangered Species List and turned back to state control. Grizzles were hunted close to extinction in the early 1900s and are still in trouble.

"The cow and sheep industry is heavily subsided across the public lands of Colorado, so much so that the some ranchers are often called "welfare ranchers." They pay almost nothing to send hundreds of thousands of livestock across our public lands sometimes obliterating the natural landscape as the livestock devour native grasses, pound the soil into dust, and wallow in and destroy streams and rivers. They also pay almost nothing to have the state and federal government exterminate native American wildlife on our public lands – wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, bears, even eagles – that sometimes prey on calves and lambs. The epitome of this extermination is the "aerial gunner men" hired by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fly helicopters over our public lands and kill thousands of wolves and coyotes with shotgun blasts from the sky every year," says journalist Gary Wockner.

Read our article, President Obama, Stop Leasing Our Federal Lands & Waters.

Read the history behind the conflict in Malheur and how Teddy Roosevelt created the refuge:

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