Bundy Verdict Puts a Target on the Backs of Federal Workers

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This piece in the New York Times from Christopher Ketcham seems worthy of discussion on this blog. In Montana, public lands issues have been the centerpiece of pretty much every single statewide campaign this year. However, to date, not one politician in Montana has said anything about last week’s verdict in the Bundy Trail, and what that may mean for the safety of thousands of public lands employees in our state, or the future management of America’s public lands. Then again, I’m not sure I can think of one single example of where any statewide politician in Montana has ever said anything negative about ranchers that graze their livestock on our federal public lands for literally pennies on the dollar, at a tremendous impact to native wildlife, watersheds and the heath of our range and forested ecosystems. -mk 

With the jury acquittals last week of Ammon and Ryan Bundy and their accomplices in the 41-day armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon last winter, the lives of federal land managers in the American West got a whole lot more difficult.

This was more than just a court victory.

The Bundys landed a blow against a culture of public service embodied by the federal employees responsible for maintaining law and order and protecting our wildest Western landscapes. And while we don’t know the reason for the acquittals in what seemed like an open-and-shut case of guilt, it comes against a backdrop of deep antipathy in parts of the West toward the environmental regulation of the hundreds of millions of acres of rangeland, forests and national parks managed by the federal government on behalf of all Americans.

This hostility is particularly strong in the high desert of southeastern Oregon that is home to the refuge, described by the environmental historian Nancy Langston in an Op-Ed article earlier this year as “a place of bitterly contested human histories that remain potent today.”

The federal land managers I’ve spoken to — rangers, biologists and law enforcement officers, almost all of them so fearful they won’t go on the record — worry that extremist copycats who seek to undermine the federal public lands system will be emboldened by the verdict.

Read the full piece here.

7 Comments

  1. We should keep in mind that the verdict didn’t condone assault or physical harm to another individual. In part the government should have been more selective on the charges they brought, and thought through what they had to prove for a guilty verdict from a jury of their peers.
    It will be interesting how the Nevada trials go.

    • Precisely. A jury considered the evidence and decided prosecutors did not meet the burden of proof. Nothing more. The government can only blame itself.

      The Feds should have cut the power and blocked the roads on day 1. Instead they let the circus play out for six weeks while nine (9!) FBI informants joined the occupation.

  2. I think the cartoon asks the question of “what now?” We should expect increased budget requests for security at federal land work sites (your tax dollars at work). And how about legislation to prohibit guns at such locations? That would make it easier to both prevent and prosecute the future incidents. A “Bundy Bill” like this would be a nice reminder of their pioneering work.

  3. I think it may be universally true for any federal building (was true of the Missoula RO). Maybe it doesn’t necessarily apply to the larger compound though. And maybe it is just a matter of the prosecutors aiming too high in this case. Which doesn’t make much sense to me because I learned that it was SOP for prosecutors to also pursue “lesser included offenses” so a jury had some options.

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