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.