Oregon Wildlife Refuge Protesters Dig in as Decades-Old Grievances Fester

orgnrnchrsprtstrsDwight and Steven Hammond, a father and son who own a family ranch in southern Oregon, have returned to federal prison to serve more time for setting controlled fires on federal land they were leasing, fires that spread to other federal lands. The additional prison time sparked a national outcry, with armed supporters even taking over the federal Malheur Wildlife Refuge headquarters near the Hammond’s ranch. As of this morning, they remain holed up there, while local sheriff Dave Ward is urging calm and reassuring the community that steps are being taken behind the scenes. “It takes only one unstable person to show up with a skewed belief window to create something that can’t be taken back,” he said.

The larger issue is the increasing frustration among ranchers toward the federal government for taking over so much private land in the West. The federal government now owns 28 percent of the land in the country. The percentage in the Western half of the United States is much higher than this. And that doesn’t even include land owned by state and local governments.

Land that has been in the families of ranchers for years is being taken away from them through various methods. After the government confiscates the property, it may lease some of it back to the ranchers — but steadily increases the leasing fees. This is what provoked the Bundy standoff in spring of 2014 between protesters and law enforcement. Cliven Bundy stopped paying the grazing fees to use federal lands in Nevada, declaring that the federal government had no authority over the land. He continued to let his cattle graze on the land, until the government closed off the land to seize his cattle. After protesters showed up, law enforcement backed down and left him alone. Since then, he has continued to use the land without paying the fees.

Read the rest of the article at The Stream

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