Friday, April 18, 2014

What’s yours is mine

     The Constitution of United States opens with the words, “We the people.” Not you, not me, but we. A recent standoff between local lawmen and a rancher in Nevada demonstrates that some are still just not clear on the concept.

     In the 1970s, the Sagebrush Rebellion arose in Western states like Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Arizona, driven early on by opposition to legislation and administrative processes that resulted in the designation of roadless wilderness areas. The Rebellion quickly morphed, however, from a political dispute into justification for attempts at expropriation of federal lands by nearby ranchers. In the minds of these rebels and by virtue of how long they or their families had been allowed to use the lands, federal tracts were “their lands.” The federal government was simply a rapacious interloper.

     For a time, the noise and Western dust seemed to settle as the Rebellion moved off the front pages. But Sagebrush Rebellion II is alive and well in southern Nevada. For many years and through several legal wrangles, rancher Cliven Bundy has claimed that it is his right to put parts of the federal holdings on which he grazes his cattle under his personal control. No eminent domain, no payments for the right to use the land, just stating firmly, and with a sidearm, that the federal government has no place in Nevada.

     With much fanfare, and much publicity from Fox News and right-wing radio hosts, Bundy’s refusal to pay grazing fees or remove his 500 cows from federal land has attracted self-described and heavily armed members of a so-called militia group to Nevada in the support their new hero.

     “I have a response for every sheriff across the United States, every county sheriff across the United States,” Bundy ranted to a patient local sheriff standing next to him. “Disarm the federal bureaucrats. Take the federal United States bureaucrats’ guns away. That’s my message today.”

     Rob Mrowka, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, provides the message Bundy and his supporters need to hear. “The (federal Bureau of Land Management) BLM has a sacred duty to manage our public lands in the public interest, to treat all users equally and fairly. Instead, it is allowing a freeloading rancher and armed thugs to seize hundreds of thousands of acres of the people’s land as their own fiefdom.”

      Like it or not, the federal government owns 86 percent of the state of Nevada. We, the People, own those lands. While a certain percentage may resent the environmental and natural resource regulations our agents impose, they do so in all our names.

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