As you probably already know, a ragtag group of armed deadbeats, G.I. Joes, and absentee foster parents are currently occupying the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in protest of the federal government. Over the last three weeks, the focus of the protest has shifted from the issue of Dwight and Steve Hammond (ranchers who were both convicted of setting fire to federal land to coverup their poaching activities) to the federal government’s role in land management in general. It should also be noted that the Hammonds, who turned themselves in immediately, want nothing to do with the group’s cause.
The group is led by Ammon Bundy, son of the bigot and freeloading rancher Cliven Bundy whose cattle are currently grazing for free on federal land on your dime. Those of you familiar with the Bible will know that Ammon and his brother Moab were the sons of an incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters. This seems to suggest that Ammon is from a family that doesn’t always think things through.But beyond the hilarity of grown men deciding to occupy a remote bird sanctuary without adequate supplies, something larger and more sinister is at play, which could impact future public land hunting in a big way. Whether they know it or not, Bundy and his group are the grassroots extension of a movement gaining support in the Senate to transfer control of federal land to states. Now why would you want to transfer vast tracts of expensive-to-maintain federal land to small-budget states? Will states better manage them? If by manage you mean divestiture, then yes, states have an excellent track record of selling public land for private use. The oil, gas, timber, and mining interests behind this push know full well that states, in addition to being much softer legal targets, cannot take on the huge expenses of managing these lands, and as a result, will sell to the highest bidder.
In the western states, 70 percent of hunters hunt on land owned and managed by the federal government. While powerful lobbyists groups like the NRA try to make the issue of guns seem like the biggest threat facing hunters today, the real threat comes from the loss of wildlife habitat and hunter access. As anybody who has ever looked at the history of wildlife conversation knows, it was the privatization of land, which included market hunting, that led to the near-complete destruction of the American megafauna at the turn of the century. If the Bundys of the world got their way, they would put us on that same path of destruction, which hunters and environmentalists have since worked so hard to undo.
This is OUR land, and it needs to stay that way. It’s best for the animals, and it’s best for us hunters.