Federal Lands Belong to All of Us – Whether In Oregon, Alaska, or Elsewhere

By on February 5, 2016 with 8 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Something very anti-American has been happening in our nation. The bonds that have traditionally held us together are popping loose here and there. To my way of thinking, not enough of us – particularly those who claim social leadership – have been speaking out in alarm.

I’d like to.

I’m referring to the foundational covenants of our country. Specifically, the idea of “We the People,” and our collective deed to parks and rivers and refuges – these public-land holdings that are a cornerstone of the American experience that we all share, that we hold in trust for future generations. Let me focus on National Wildlife Refuges, because, for the first time in a long time, they’ve been on the front page – albeit for the wrong reasons.

Who owns these 100 million acres of wildlife habitat?

That’s easy. They teach it everywhere from grade school to grad school. We all do. We the people.

But  now, if you listen to a few outlaw cowboys in Idaho, Nevada, and other points West, they’ll tell you, No. It belongs to them, whoever they are. Not you. Them. To do as they please.

There shouldn’t be much fuss about this matter, really. The so-called “sagebrush rebellion” has been an episodic and overblown phenomenon in the West for 40 years.

But I’ve been growing more concerned. I think we should worry when much of our news media and too much of our political leadership takes these criminals at least partly seriously. Their recent “occupation” of Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon was seldom characterized correctly as an act of protest against the conviction of arsonists covering up their poaching, but rather portrayed as the narrative of righteous lads with big belt buckles and fancy hats standing up, Alamo-style, to speak out against a villainous federal government.

The Malheur “uprising” seems to have finally fizzled, and the lads with the big hats are facing some unhappy days in the courthouse.

But the anti-government sentiment still simmers. And too often the “We the People” part of these stories is left for grade-school teachers. Right now, the battleground over “your” national wildlife refuges has shifted to Alaska. There, it’s not a matter of a dozen cowboys with sugar-plum fantasies of John Wayne in their little heads; it’s the state government that proposes to take your deed to these refuges and flush it down the toilet.

I was fascinated, not to say dismayed, this week to read a news story about a bill moving through the state legislature in Juneau that “demands” the U.S. government relinquish all deed to all of the state’s “federally owned land” to Alaska. Including National Wildlife Refuges.

The news story further reported that lawmakers know full well that such a land-grab would be unconstitutional. But pandering to special interests knows no bounds in some places.

And Alaska’s federal lawmakers are getting in on the act, too. They don’t much like a recent proposed rulemaking by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, developed by managers of Alaska’s refuges, to manage animals within refuge boundaries in the interests of wildlife and with concern for those who enjoy – or appreciate – them on our collective lands. The idea behind the proposed federal rule is not to stop hunting, but merely to curb some truly awful abuses of wildlife and to state some common-sense rules that really shouldn’t provide much argument when it comes to the rights and wrongs of hunting.

This rule would prohibit the killing of brown bears with bait. Good lord, no Alaska hunter worthy of the name should argue on behalf of money-hungry guides who want to set out bait so they can promise busy millionaire outsiders a quick, easy weekend kill for the trophy room.

Another element of the rule would bar hunters from spotting bears from an airplane, landing close-by, and shooting them. Instead, the hunter would have to wait 24 hours. Most Alaska hunters, I’ll wager, and certainly a majority of us Americans who hold deed to these refuges, don’t think we need to deploy air strikes on bears.

And mind you, these are behaviors in question on a national wildlife refuge?  If we don’t protect these creatures on a “refuge” from these unsporting and indeed sickening behaviors, where would we provide some safeguards?

Alaska’s junior U.S. Senator, Dan Sullivan, recently pushed through an amendment to a “Sportsmen’s package” in Congress to block any final action from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make this rule final – a rule grounded in the idea of the common good and sportsmanship and fair use and most basic protections for wildlife.  He’s not speaking for all Alaskans in pushing this action, since we know that many Alaskans oppose land-and-shoot hunting, baiting, and denning of wolves.

I’ll be writing more about these rules and Alaska’s pandering response.

But for now, I want to make the case as strongly as I can that the “we” in We the People are you, me, our neighbors, and our friends. The millions of us who work, pay taxes, and honor our responsibilities.

We would not tolerate some band of thugs deciding to appropriate Central Park from public ownership, or Yosemite, or LAX airport. We wouldn’t entertain a debate over whether the Bundys should be grazing cattle on the National Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

And we need to stop accepting the idea that these Bundy-esque contests, these Alaska showdowns, are between people and some vague oppressor institution. Unfortunately, that’s too often where we find ourselves now after 35 years of political mau-mauing about government as something apart from the “we.” It’s not. Read the first three words of the Constitution. The refuges are ours. It’s un-American to say, or think, otherwise.

How government manages public resources in the public interest – that’s a legitimate subject for debate. In that vein, I could offer 20 good arguments for conservative management of national wildlife refuges – but the most important two are (a) for the wildlife who live there and (b) for those of us who care about them.

And when it comes to the specifics of management, I’ll take the word of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the ravings of the Bundy folks, or the Alaska pols who too conveniently forget about our noble tradition of federal land protection as a unique element of the American experience and character.

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Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. David Bernazani says:

    I for one would like to think that America’s national refuges actually provide refuge for the wildlife that lives there. It’s outrageous to think that some folks want otherwise.
    Not on my watch. My senators are going to hear from me about this.
    Thanks, Wayne, for keeping us posted on this important issue.

  2. Denise Szyszlo says:

    We are not on this planet alone. We need to learn to share, not kill~ Look into these eyes this bb is so frightened chased down with multiple dogs and to be shot. How is this ok… . Why do we think we can hunt and kill everything that does not live in a house or walk up-right. Stop killing, take a picture enjoy their presents on this earth. They are gifts from God. Do you think God wants you to kill his treasures. I have to believe NO… I don’t think so… my brain is bigger so I can use it to love to share not take away their space, not invade their lives, not take away their lives to hang on a wall and surely not kill. I want to share my world I want to see the beauty of nature. I don’t want to take, take, take, just because I can. I want to give and I want to see others let alone what deserves to be let alone to live and love. Stop killing… your brain is bigger than that. So show that you are human and not a killer. Killing does not make you brave, it doesn’t make you anything but the taker of life that did not belong to you~

  3. Candace Colby says:

    Finally a word of sanity to remind everyone that public lands are just that – land that belongs to all the American people, not just a few ranchers and cattleman who pay ridiculously low grazing fees and too often contribute to the degradation of the land.

  4. Don Molde says:

    Well said. I was in Nevada when the “Sagebrush Rebellion” kicked off in the early ’80’s. It was an embarrassment then and it is now. If it were to happen, it would represent a giant “takings”….the very issue that rednecks rail against.

  5. Rachel says:

    So “Federal lands belong to all of us”? True, in the strictest sense, however there are variations in different situations. Yellowstone, for example, is a popular destination. In contrast, there are the federal lands in states like NV and OR, desert and not much else. Not many people even want to go there, but that land is vital to the livelihood of the ranchers who lease it.

    I wouldn’t have commented except I’m concerned by a theme many of these posts have in common. If the human presence is forbidden in many areas except for hiking etc. and marginalized in others how are we going to continue to exist? What will happen when farming is difficult due to restrictions and predators near population centers (like LA) have decimated their natural prey and turn on people? People who are our friends, neighbors and family?

    • Renee DeMartin says:

      Seriously are you nuts…..first humans need to stop breeding as much as they do. Second, desert environments are home to many species of wildlife that have adapted to such terrains. Third, you are worried about predators near population centers??
      Ranchers are able to lease extra grazing land at below market from the BLM.
      A few greedy ones refuse to even consider paying for that.
      Humans, in theory the only thinking species on the planet (altho I have real doubts about that) need to control their own population numbers for the planet and all other species on it to thrive. How incredibly selfish and short-sighted
      we’ve been.

      • David Bernazani says:

        Well said, Renee. Rachel seems to think that some federal (read: America’s public) lands are necessary for ranchers. You know, those wealthy few who graze their cattle cheaply (or even free) on national preserves and parklands. Those same guys who call the US Wildlife Services for free predator killing, or the BLM to round up (at taxpayer expense) America’s last wild horses so they can have ever more space for their precious cattle. All for what? So they can sell lots of meat– which I don’t even eat. Yet i have to pay taxes, which puts money in their pockets.
        I think it’s only fair that we non-ranchers have some say in how our lands are used.

  6. Cheechako says:

    I won’t be redundant ’cause the blog saids it all, however:
    Finally! enforcing the Law of “We all do. We the people”.!!! That’s the only needed statement to enforce new legislation and laws in this country. Otherwise: National Marching!!!!. Without counting now the air shooting to hunt wolves in the North. Is a shame how americans has lost self control in their greedy.

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