According to “Retired” Oregonian Reporter Les Zaitz, “Ammon Bundy verdict puts federal land agencies on alert.”
Note: We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, here at RANGEFIRE! we have no interest in being a single-dimensional echo chamber. We acknowledge that there are always multiple sides to every story. In the West, there is an old saying to the effect that: “good fences make good neighbors.” At RANGEfire! we acknowledge our virtual neighbors on this virtual landscape. We think it is important for people to have an opportunity to hear all sides of the story, and know what others are saying about these issues. So we often share what others are saying.
Although Oregonian Reporter, Les Zaitz (who received awards for his biased coverage of the Oregon Standoff), had said that he was retiring, apparently he has returned to join others in adding his biased, fear-mongering slant to the outcome of the Oregon Standoff Trial.
Unfortunately, Zaitz and the Mainstream Media are blinded by their own biases. That is why the trial verdict came as such a shock to them. The DAPL Protest in North Dakota, which they are fully advocating, with their own predictable twist and spin, has spawned much more violence and provocation, real or imagnined,than anything in Oregon — except for the governments’ own violence toward the occupiers, and particularly LaVoy Finicum.
According to Les Zaitz/OregonLive, Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, was so sure about convictions for Ammon Bundy and others on trial for taking over his agency’s bird sanctuary that he’d already written a “victim’s letter” to consider at sentencing.
So when jurors Thursday found Bundy and six others not guilty of impeding his agency’s workers after they seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2, Ashe said he took it personally.
In an interview Friday, Ashe said federal officials remain determined to prosecute new occupations. And in a blunt internal email, obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive, he said his agency “must send a strong message of deterrence to those who would seek to replicate the occupation or perpetuate the toxic myths that sustained it.”
In interviews and other communiques issued in the wake of the verdict, the executives who manage much of America’s federal public lands offered the first hint at how the occupation and its outcome would shape their approach to their work.
They advised public workers to be alert for potential trouble. They said they would do all they could to protect their employees and national parks, refuges and other federal holdings.
They also emphatically resolved to press ahead with policies for managing public lands that depend on working well with local interests. Since the occupation, Harney County has been held up as a model for how ranchers, environmentalists, business owners and government staff can work together.
But security is top of mind at the moment for federal officials.
“We’re in a heightened state,” Ashe said. “We are concerned that the verdict in this case could embolden people.”
Neil Kornze, director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, told his staff in a memo that employees must be “clear-eyed about the potential impact” of the’ Malheur verdict and U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said she’s worried about “potential implications for our employees and for the effective management of public lands.”
Jewell, in an internal memo, recounted her visit to the Oregon refuge after the occupation.
“It was painful to hear from employees who had devoted their entire careers to public service and worried about their safety,” Jewell said. She urged Interior Department employees to “take care of yourselves and fellow employees” and “be vigilant.”
Ashe, who has spent his career in the Fish & Wildlife Service as did his father before him, recounted in his memo how damaging the occupation was to the 16 employees of the remote southeastern Oregon refuge.
“Their refuge work went undone – reversing or impeding years of dedicated effort,” Ashe wrote. “Many of their friendships, and their sense of belonging in the community, have been damaged or destroyed.” Some haven’t returned to work and others are leaving, he said.
He told The Oregonian/OregonLive that refuge employees were disappointed with the verdict and had “frustration with what they see as a failure in this process.”
But in one sideways nod to Bundy’s cause, federal and state agencies have begun paying attention to decades-old Western land debates in a way they wouldn’t have without the 41 uneasy days of the occupation.
They’re working to develop and nurture partnerships with ranchers, environmentalists and local governments to manage federal refuges, forests, and rangelands.
“The occupation brought into a very sharp focus both the intensity and the speed at which we need to tackle these issues,” Gov. Kate Brown said.
They’ve highlighted Harney County as a national model for how cattle country can work with bureaucrats.
The High Desert Partnership in Burns is bringing together traditionally adversarial interests and creating alliances on the refuge, Jewell said a recent interview.
Over 11 years, ranchers, conservationists, local officials and others crafted a new way of business at the refuge — a sprawling scrubby rangeland spotted with marshes, lakes and other waterways that provide sanctuary for 320 bird species and other wildlife.
Their deal allows cattle grazing, water management and wildlife recovery at the same time in the same place. The effort is considered a prototype for letting the community, not the government, drive the work.
“I can’t imagine how much coffee was drunk around kitchen tables,” Jewell said.
Chad Karges, the refuge manager credited with shepherding the plan, said one lesson was that personal relationships had to come first. Only then did trust develop that, for instance, coaxed a cattleman to take the word of an environmentalist.
Another key, he said, was using the nonprofit High Desert Partnership to manage the work without taking sides. The partnership formed in 2005 with ranchers, environmentalists, government workers and business owners.
“These collaborative processes cannot be driven by an agency,” Karges said.
Even during the occupation, he said, people wanted to know how the partnership merged competing needs into a single plan.
“How do we replicate this? That was the next thing that hit us,” Karges said. “It’s given us a spotlight like never before.”
Jewell said after learning more about the refuge plan, she asked her staff: “Are we doing this everywhere?” She wants the Interior Department’s policies and practices adjusted to foster the kind of collaboration practiced in Harney County.
That sort of working together led to the federal government’s landmark decision last year not to list the sage grouse as an endangered species.
Such a listing could have particularly hit the cattle industry in eastern Oregon by restricting grazing. Harney County people played defining roles in the sage grouse plan as well, with a local soil and water district leading the way to propose measures to protect the chicken-like bird while allowing grazing, according to federal officials.
We were well known for coming up with creative solutions,” said Steve Grasty, head of the Harney County Court who became the key local leader telling refuge occupiers to go home. He pointed to the refuge restoration plan and to a cooperative effort to increase logging on the Malheur National Forest without triggering litigation. “Communities across the West have said that just fighting isn’t working.”
The long game is important when it comes to building consensus on something as divisive as the sage grouse debate, said Kornze. Federal officials announced in 2010 intentions to propose listing the bird as an endangered species across 271,600 square miles in 11 states.
Restrictions were expected on grazing, mining, and energy projects on state, federal and private land.
Instead, all sides met and came up with an alternative. The U.S. Forest Service described the resulting deal as “the largest landscape-scale conservation planning effort in U.S. history.”
“I’ve consistently found that you can find people who are vehemently opposed to each other’s views, get them in a pickup, drive to a place, roll out a map on the hood, kick some dirt and talk awhile,” Kornze said.
“There are productive ways to engage in communication,” he said. “An armed takeover is not one of them.”
Nonetheless, federal agency executives said they won’t let the verdict stymie the effort at community partnerships such as those forged in Harney County.
“We see it as even more important,” Ashe said.
— Les Zaitz
RANGE / RANGEFIRE! — Addressing Issues Facing the West / Spreading America’s Cowboy Spirit Beyond the Outback