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General News    H3'ed 1/5/16

The Bundy "Militia" Versus 318 Million Owners of Federal Land

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Message Bill Willers
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The Bundy "Militia" Versus 318 Million Owners of Federal Land
"The western cattle industry has been riding the backs of taxpayers for nearly seventy years" -T.H. Watkins, 2002
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If ever there was an issue crying out for context from the media, it's the one playing out in Oregon now, where a handful of men are holding an Oregon wildlife refuge hostage. Federal wildlife refuges, like the national forests, national parks and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, belong to all 318 million US citizens in common. Every one of us has an equal "share". Because collectively the public lands are nearly a third of the area of the lower 48 states, their fate is a substantial issue for all of us.
Ammon Bundy and his father Cliven are just two of a group of livestock operators who have become wealthy by using our public land for a fraction of "market". Over the years, domestic livestock have done immense damage to the fragile arid western landscape and have displaced native herbivores.
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A "unit" of livestock, called an Animal Unit per Month (AUM), is defined as a cow plus her calf, or five sheep. In the West today, anyone wanting to graze livestock on private land would find the going rate about $20 per AUM. But livestock operators using our federal lands, because of the political clout they have long enjoyed in those sparsely populated states, pay $1.35. The difference amounts to welfare, plain and simple, courtesy of the US taxpayer, a fact long kept out of public awareness.
http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/09/08/wild-west-welfare/
There are few more glaring ironies in American life than western livestock operators claiming to be victims of "overreach" by a government (and taxpayer majority) that has made them fabulously wealthy.
This welfare system goes back to the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934. Grazing permits are ten-year leases the government is under no obligation to renew. However, given the political and social climate of the West, permits have been automatically renewed for so long that permit holders have come to think of the land as their own, with a result that US citizens are routinely run off their own public lands, sometimes at gunpoint, by permit holders who lease nothing but temporary grazing rights.
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As to why the federal government does not terminate leases, the only reason given is "They just don't". As to why not, "Permit holders don't want their permits revoked". Well of course they don't want their parasitic, taxpayer-funded lifestyle reduced. It really is that uncomplicated. And if the Government, acting for the majority of US citizens, is to try, the permittees with their flag-waving militia mentality are quick to let you know they'll go for their guns and produce the kind of "powder keg" situation now percolating in Oregon.
In other words, we taxpayers are paying for our own home-grown terrorists. It's a situation that is being presented by news media with little if any historical context.

 

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Bill Willers is emeritus professor of biology, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

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