Over the weekend a bunch of militant ranchers and wannabees took over a building at a federal wildlife refuge in southeastern Oregon. The group has threatened violence upon any authority threatening to remove them and are generally making a big show of things.
The leader, Ammon Bundy, kin to Nevada rancher and scofflaw Cliven Bundy, has offered this short manifesto: “We’re going to be freeing these lands up, and getting ranchers back to ranching, getting the loggers back to logging, getting the miners back to mining where they could do it under the protection of the people and not be afraid of this tyranny that’s been set upon them.”
There are obviously a lot of problems with this statement, starting with the notion that “freeing these lands up” means allowing resource extraction activities. There are also some problems with the “these lands” aspect in the first place.
For one thing, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the site of the occupation, mostly consists of a great big lake. This would be Malheur Lake, the focus of the refuge in question, which itself consists only of a few scraps of dry land and then the water. The refuge is then surrounded by about half private land, and half Bureau of Land Management land. Federal land.
The BLM is sort of like the Forest Service but for grasslands and deserts. Its focus is more geared toward administering grazing and mineral rights—exploitation over preservation. The BLM lands surrounding the refuge are entirely rangelands. Any protections those lands enjoy are in place to prevent overgrazing to ensure that the land remains marketable.
This is the reason the BLM exists in the first place. The agency is the product of the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, a piece of legislation mandating the enactment of regulated federal grazing parcels following a period of widespread, unchecked rangeland devastation during the homesteading era. Its existence owes to the lobbying of the ranching industry itself.
Anyhow, here’s how the BLM rangeland around Malheur is chopped up:
Using BLM lands for grazing costs money. This was the source of the great 2014 Cliven Bundy standoff in Nevada: an unpaid bill.
How much does it cost to graze on federal lands? From the resistance put up by Bundy and co., you might imagine it to be pretty steep.
What the federal government actually charges is $1.35 per animal unit month. The BLM takes in some $12 million annually in income from its grazing program. Meanwhile, it spends $79.9 million on stuff like “weed management, rangeland monitoring (not related to grazing administration), planning, water development, vegetation restoration, and habitat improvement.”
So, yes, ranching is heavily subsidized by the American government.
Logging, Mining, Drilling
There is no logging to be done at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, nor is there logging to be done near it. This is because there are no trees. Many places in Oregon that have actual trees are logged aggressively. According to its own figures, the industry has access to approximately half of Oregon’s total forestland.
There are no coal deposits near the refuge, nor is there oil. Based on USGS surveys, there isn’t much in the way of minerals to be extracted from the area either; mining in the past (represented by the tiny red squares) around Malheur Lake has been limited to a few stone quarries.
In conclusion, I offer to Ammon Bundy and his crew: Good luck with all of that.