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.
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.
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 access, better 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
Sources For This Article:
- Politico 01/03/2016: Armed takeover of Oregon wildlife refuge
- National Center for Constitutional Studies: The U.S. Constitution and Federal Lands
- American Lands Council Slate 01/03/2016: Militia Occupies Federal Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, Vows to Stay “For Years”
- Washington Post 01/03/2016: What spurred the armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in southeast Oregon
- Washington Post 01/04/2016: In Oregon, frustration over federal land rights has been building for years
- New York Daily News 01/04/2016: Father, son ranchers who inspired Oregon militia to seize federal building surrender to California prison officials
- Attn 01/04/2016: Why Are Oregon’s Protesters Called ‘Militiamen,’ Not Terrorists?
- FiveThirtyEight/Politics 01/04/2016: The Armed Oregon Ranchers Who Want Free Land Are Already Getting A 93 Percent Discount
- The Guardian 01/03/2016: Oregon militia threatens showdown with US agents at wildlife refuge
- The Guardian 01/04/2016: Oregon Sheriff says militia aims to overthrow government
- Christian Science Monitor 01/04/2016: Oregon standoff: What should media call armed, white activists?
- The Guardian 01/05/2016: Oregon militia says occupation of wildlife refuge could last ‘several years’
- Washington Post 01/04/2016: FBI takes lead on investigating armed takeover of federal building in Oregon; ranchers turn themselves in
- Oregon Public Broadcasting 01/05/2016: Why There’s No Law Enforcement At Oregon Occupation
- NEWSWEEK 01/05/2016: Is The Oregon Militia Takeover an Example of White Privilege?
- The Guardian 01/06/2016: The Bundy bunch: who are the armed militia in the Oregon standoff?
- The Guardian 01/06/2016: Oregon militia hunkers down for long winter as federal agents plot next move
- NPR 01/06/2016: Why There’s No Sign Of Law Enforcement At Site Of Oregon Takeover
- NY Times 01/06/2016: Lesson for Stalemated Sides in Oregon: A Texas Standoff Without End
- CBS News 01/06/2016: Armed group in Oregon fears raid; critics decry goals
- Waco Tribune 01/06/2016: Takeover of wildlife refuge in Oregon makes mockery of law, Constitution
- CNN 01/06/2016: Native Tribe Blasts Oregon Takeover
- Stanford News 01/06/2016: Oregon standoff latest protest in long-running controversy over Western lands, Stanford experts say
- USA Today 01/06/2016: Oregon Indian Tribe Calls for End to Standoff
- ABC News 01/06/2016: Feds Take Low-Key Approach to Oregon Standoff
- Counter Punch 91/06/2016: From Waco to Burns: Chicken Wings and Militiamen
- ABC News 01/07/2016: Oregon Tribe: Armed Group ‘Desecrating’ Their Land
- Oregon Live 01/06/2016: Death threats from ranchers reported years before standoff
- Daily Beast 01/07/2016: Waco’s Lessons for the Oregon Militia Standoff
- Indian Country 01/07/2016: Crazy White People Are the New Native Americans: Woody Guthrie, Ammon Bundy & Donald Trump Read more
- Southern Poverty Law Center 01/07/2016: Infighting Over Oregon Militia Takeover Reveals Deep Divisions Among ‘Patriots’
- Talking Points Memo 01/07/2016: If Trump Were Prez, He Would Tell Oregon Militia ‘You Gotta Get Out’
- The Daily Caller 01/07/2016: Lessons From The Ill-Advised Oregon Takeover, Part II
- Washington Post 01/07/2016: Oregon sheriff meets with armed group occupying wildlife refuge and asks them to leave
- Washington Post 01/08/2016: I’m an Oregon rancher. Here’s what you don’t understand about the Bundy standoff.
- National Geographic 01/08/2016: Tracing the Deep Roots of the Oregon Occupation
- ABC News 01/09/2016: More Armed Men Visit Site of Oregon Wildlife Refuge Standoff
- AP 01/09/2016: Things to know: The armed standoff in Oregon
- ABC News 01/10/2016: Ranchers’ Cause, Not Tactics, Gains Support in GOP Circles
- NY Times 01/11/2016: The Larger, but Quieter Than Bundy, Push to Take Over Federal Land
- The Guardian 01/11/2016: Pressure grows on Oregon militia as former Bundy backers call for retreat