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The Close of the Oregon Occupation: What Could Have Happened?

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon had been occupied since January 2, 2016. After an extended standoff, the situation finally reached a breaking point when the militia’s leaders were arrested on January 26, 2016 during a traffic stop when they left the refuge to attend a community meeting. This was a major blow to the operation, putting the occupation in a rapid decline.

At the beginning of the situation, the demands of the occupiers weren’t entirely clear. When asked specifically in interviews, “What action by the government would end this occupation?” the leaders repeatedly answered with indecision and vague responses such as, “We want the tyranny to end.”

But eventually the desires of the militia became clearer. Ammon Bundy, one of their leaders and a primary spokesman for the group, had previously gained notoriety in 2014 when he stood with his father, Cliven Bundy, in protest of charges for unpaid grazing fees with respect to the family’s ranch in Nevada. It soon became apparent that the Oregon occupation was a continuation that the family’s demanded in 2014 – mainly, that the federal government needed to cease and desist all land ownership/management.

This particular line of thinking is not a new one. It is a value that aligns most closely with ultra-conservative and libertarian political parties, and as such demands minimal government interference.

However, what would the ultimate results be if such demands were met?

During a press conference January 27, 2016, FBI Special Agent in Charge, Greg Bretzing, said of the occupiers, “They have chosen to threaten and intimidate the America they claim to love.” However, these occupiers are not alone in their views. What would America look like without the “interference” of the federal government?

Likely not very beautiful.

Ammon Bundy has specifically stated that his goal is to have all federal land returned to private ownership so that “people can reclaim their resources.” By this, he refers to grazing, ranching, logging, hunting, etc. Any and all use of the natural resources existing on a piece of land by the local population.

No laws. No stops.

Between various government entities, such as U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the federal government owned about 640 million acres (approximately 28%) of land in the U.S. as of the end of 2014, according to reports from the Congressional Research Service. Which is, no doubt, quite a bit, and does not include those additional lands held by state or county governments.

But what seems to be a missed point by the groups who demand that the government not hold any land is that, without the government’s protection, these lands would rapidly become wastelands.

Unfortunately people have proven time and again that they require boundaries; it’s why government and law exists in the first place. Without those boundaries, the precious resources of our country, resources that not only belong to the people but to all the creatures who share this continent with us, would inevitably be consumed as quickly a possible.

For example, if the owner has a piece of property that would net him $1 million in timber sales, would he be more likely to choose that route, or the route that nets him no profit but keeps old growth trees and the rare bird species that nest there in their homes?

Sadly, that owner would likely choose the option that provides financial benefit.

Without the protection of the government, those 640 million acres of land suddenly become fair game, and, with an increasing population and therefore an increased need for resources, it wouldn’t be long before those lands were stripped of their resources, decimating the wildlife populations that called those natural places their home. And once that circle of life begins to break down, it would only be inevitable that catastrophe would follow.

As tax season rolls around many of us begin cursing the federal government and their meddling. But when it comes to land management and preservation, this is one time when citizens need to stand with their government.

UPDATE: As of February 11, 2016 the Oregon occupation has officially ended. The last four occupants who were armed and remained holding the refuge after the others had been arrested or surrendered – Jeff Banta, Sean Anderson, Sandy Anderson, and David Fry – surrendered themselves to FBI custody on Thursday morning. The Washington Post published an article outlining the full details of the last surrender and the final events lead to the occupation’s conclusion.

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