Citizens for Constitutional Freedom? Or The Bundy Bunch?

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At its Core, The Armed Occupation of Oregon’s Malheur Federal Wildlife Refuge is about Federalism and Environmental Protection.

On January 2nd, 2016, Ammon Bundy lead an armed group to occupy Oregon’s Malheur Federal Wildlife Refuge. The group of less than 25 call themselves the “Citizens for Constitutional Freedom.” Their primary claim extends a decades old controversy, that the Federal Government has no Constitutional authority to create and manage wildlife refuges on Federal land—absent State authorization. Furthermore, they believe that local economies are hurt when environmental protection takes precedence over industries such as cattle, logging, and mining. Ultimately, this group feels that the Federal Government should transfer the bulk of its land to the states, and they have already broken the law to achieve their goals. Traditionally, we would refer to such a group as criminals, or possibly domestic terrorists, but I suppose the (“Bundy Bunch”) will do.

Buena Vista Overlook, By Jeff Sorn, Oregon Department of Transportation [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

How Much Land Does The Federal Government Own?

The federal government owns roughly 640 million acres, about 28% of the 2.27 billion acres of land in the United States. Four agencies administer 608.9 million acres of this land: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and National Park Service (NPS) in the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the Forest Service (FS) in the Department of Agriculture. Most of these lands are in the West and Alaska. In addition, the Department of Defense administers 14.4 million acres in the United States consisting of military bases, training ranges, and more. Numerous other agencies administer the remaining federal acreage. Federal land ownership is concentrated in the West. Specifically, 61.2% of Alaska is federally owned, as is 46.9% of the 11 coterminous western states. By contrast, the federal government owns 4.0% of lands in the other states. This western concentration has contributed to a higher degree of controversy over land ownership and use in that part of the country.

Congressional Research Service: Federal Land Ownership (2014)

The Legal Arguments

In Support of The Armed Occupiers:

The Constitution originally restricted Federal Government land use through the enumerated powers granted to Congress, and the Courts have consistently clarified this power—see Article I, §8, cl. 17, within the U.S. Charters Page.

…to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings;…

The Utah based American Lands Council supports the western states’ position, their mission is as follows:

American Lands Council is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization of individuals, counties, business, and organizations that was founded by County Commissioners in 2012. The Mission of the American Lands Council is to secure local control of western public lands by transferring federal public lands to willing States. ALC is leading the charge by giving leaders the knowledge and courage to battle for the only solution big enough to ensure better accessbetter health, AND better productivity through the Transfer of Public Lands (TPL) to local stewardship.

While it is true this organization was initially funded by county commissioners, they are now also supported by the infamous Koch Brothers through Americans For Prosperity and their $889 million political budget for 2016.  Of course, the Koch’s have huge interests within the lumber, mining, and fracking industries; and they’re always looking for ways to add to their combined $100 billion net worth. Heck, they even got Ted Cruz to initiate legislation to sell National Parks to the Kochs.

In Support of Federal Land Use:

In United States v. San Francisco, 310 U.S. 16 (1940), the Supreme Court clearly ruled that Congress may legislate under the Property Clause (Article IV, §3 cl. 2) “without limitation.”

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

A clear analysis from Clifton B. Parker of The Stanford News identifies the key issue:

At the root of the issue is how to interpret the Constitution’s property clause… The question is whether it grants Congress broad authority to regulate activities on federal land, or whether it merely grants the federal government the right to own land within states, subject to state and local land use and real property law.

“The Supreme Court answered this question very clearly in 1976 in a case called Kleppe v. New Mexico, when it ruled in favor of the broad interpretation. This gave Congress both the power of an owner and a legislature over the public domain,” Michael Wara said.

The Government’s Response

The FBI is handling the matter with assistance from local authorities, and so far they are doing exactly what is required—nothing. There is no benefit of an armed confrontation with this small group of malcontents, and eventually they will disband when they realize the utter futility of their demands. The simple fact is, the Bundy Bunch is on the wrong side of the law—and this will eventually become clear. They would do better to stay home and fight this battle through the Courts.

Moreover, most Americans prefer that we place environment and wildlife above the resource extraction industry. There is no need to take back anything, as the people already have control of their land through their Government, and they exercise that control as Congress sees fit—even if the Bundy Bunch disagrees.

Prosecution of The Bundy Bunch?

What happens to the Bundy Bunch, these federal land squatters? Should they be charged for trespass, confiscating federal property or worse? This could get very interesting.


Mark G Capolupo

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Tim Brady

Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer had seen enough. When asked what should be done about the occupation, Sheriff Palmer said, “freeing a father-son ranching team from prison would be a start. Sending the FBI home would be a start.” I do not believe the meeting LaVoy Fin
icum died trying to get to was a ruse to capture them. Sheriff Palmer knows much more that could have been revealed had that meeting been allowed to take place. This was an important meeting that a very determined man died trying to get to. Sheriff Glenn Palmer saw through the charade and the corruption. Sheriff Palmer knows much more that could have been revealed had that meeting been allowed to take place. This was an important meeting that a very determined man died trying to get to.

Ken Van

For Joe Gunn… “Federal Lands” is a misnomer… they are lands owned by ALL the American people, held in trust by the federal government and administered by the BLM… It has been such since these western states were admitted to the union. The ranchers in question want free use of the land for pursuing a commercial enterprise without paying the very reasonable grazing fees… basically they want free stuff… they are moochers..

Joe Gunn

C’mon man, why should the Federal Government continue to own close to 50% of all the Western States?

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