|Eric Parker of Idaho points an assualt rifle at the feds. Photo courtesy of Reuters.|
Cliven Bundy owns a share, as well, although he's taking more than what's due. In fact, for the last 20 years, after refusing to pay grazing fees to the government, Bundy has been taking from my land--he's been grazing hundreds of head of cattle on my land and hasn't paid a grazing fee to do so. For perspective, the grazing fee that Bundy would owe under 2014 rules is $1.35 per animal unit (cow and a calf) per month. It's a scam--these fees have been too low for too long.
Yet Bundy can't be bothered to pay even this pittance for the use of my land. Or your land. Our land. Instead, he appealed to the extreme fringes of our society--those places on the political spectrum occupied at one time by Timothy McVeigh, before he bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City, or Ted Kaczynski, during his Unabomber spree. Or Claude Dallas, when he executed two game wardens trying to bring him to justice for poaching on public land in the Owyhees (you know, our land).
And, good grief, did the fringe-dwellers show up.
Those of us in Idaho are particularly proud of one Eric Parker, who's photographed lying prone and aiming an assault rifle at government agents through a crack in a concrete barrier (enjoy the bare light bulb treatment, Eric--you have it coming, you friggin' genius). The feds--the caretakers of my land--were sent in to remove Cliven's trespassing cattle. Parker claims he's from central Idaho (don't they all?), and he and dozens of other "patriots" showed up in Nevada to essentially defend an outlaw. The courts have spoken. The feds have spoken. But Cliven Bundy continues to run cattle on my little stretch of desert paradise, and he still hasn't paid a dime.
'If these guys can show up, aim rifles at the feds and spend a day reveling in bumper-sticker idealism, why can't I or anyone else wander on down and harvest some beef that's illegally grazing on our land?'
Wisely, to avoid dusty, bloody rerun of Ruby Ridge, the BLM backed off--the cattle they had rounded up were turned loose. The freaks won "The Battle of Bunkerville" without firing a shot. I lost--my land still has Cliven Bundy's cows on it, and my caretakers still haven't seen a dime for the privilege, despite court rulings saying the rancher and melon farmer owes the BLM about $1 million.
I wonder, then, would it be against the law for me and others with a taste for beef to wander on down to our Nevada landholding and remove the trespassing cows ourselves? Contrary to popular belief, even folks from the reasonable middle--or perhaps a bit left--on the political spectrum know where to aim a 30.06 for a kill shot on a large ungulate. If these guys can show up, aim rifles at the feds and spend a day reveling in bumper-sticker idealism, why can't I or anyone else wander on down and harvest some beef that's illegally grazing on our land?
I've read with general disgust the extremist views of these so-called patriots (even U.S. Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada called them such--a treasonous statement for a sitting lawmaker, in my opinion)--they're whining about the usual stuff, like an oppressive government overreaching its authority, warning the rest of us that Cliven Bundy is just the beginning... that the government is out to get each and every one of us.
Government, frankly, is what makes a society civil. And our government, when adhering to its founding principles and its constitution, largely achieves the modest goal of maintaining civility. You want a milquetoast federal government? I know a little country on the eastern border of Russia who'd love to have you and your AR-15 right about now.
But the nerve this whole thing hits with me, of course, is the notion that one man's use of public lands is more important than another's. And Cliven Bundy and his scraggly, cheat-grass-fed cows are but a single, insignificant example of land use run amok. It blows my mind that these assault-rifle-toting zealots will show up in force to defend an outlaw but they won't lift a finger to help stop a poorly-conceived, ill-fated drilling and fracking plan that all but trashes vital winter range for mule deer and elk, and threatens irreplaceable habit for trout in Wyoming or Colorado. That, too, is happening on my land, and I'm not very happy about it. It impacts me and people like me who truly know what to do with a high-powered rifle... or a fly rod.
|Cliven Bundy on his soap-box. Photo courtesy of The Huffington Post.|
He called in the extremists and made a spectacle out of the public lands management system that, while perhaps not perfect, has given so much to Americans willing to appreciate the notion that, by right of birth, this land belongs to you and me. It's ours to enjoy. To fish. To hunt. To camp. And, for a price, others can log, or drill ... or run cattle. For a price.
Pay your fees, Mr. Bundy. Or get your cows off my land. And tell your friends of political convenience to crawl back into their basements and save their powder for the day when an unjust government truly does come calling. You're an outlaw, not a hero.
God help us if we somehow can't tell the difference.