Ammon Bundy, quoted on his acquittal of charges in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge armed occupation, expressed amazement that anyone could fail to take the side of the “people” instead of the government. Ideally, government is of the people, by the people, and for the people.  I am both people and part of the government.

I also own a share of the Malheur NWR equal to Ammon Bundy’s. I spend a lot of time at wildlife refuges and have traveled to spend time at Malheur. Teddy Roosevelt’s generation understood the value of protecting habitat for wildlife and bird migration. We owe them a debt of gratitude and a sense of responsibility in leaving it be.  We ought to share the same commitment to our children.

Much of the land in the West was either purchased or taken by the United States for expansion and then turned over to states and individuals in land grants and homesteading provisions.  Free use of much of the unclaimed land was allowed by the U.S. government.  Much of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land is now leased for cattle grazing, mineral and oil extraction. A fair portion of the revenue gained from these leases is returned to the states involved. It is estimated that granting local control to the states encompassing these federal lands would increase administrative costs without solving the questions of usage.

The Ashanti Tribe of Ghana has a saying: “Land belongs to a vast family of whom many are dead, a few are living and a countless host are still unborn.”  That seems a nice recognition that Earth is a common heritage.

It looks like a road to ruin to see land as only a vehicle for increasing revenue or territorial domain.  Personal ownership of land is actually a fairly recent concept in human history and even then has enough restrictions so that it is more accurate to say that I have rights to the land on which I live than to say I own it.  I don’t have absolute freedom to use my small piece as I see fit.  I am subject to zoning law, must pay taxes, am liable for lawsuits brought against the property and must abide by restrictions agreed on by the community in which I live, not to mention the state’s right of eminent domain.     

I had nothing to do with the creation of the land on which I live, no say in what happened here 50 years ago, and 50 years from now no one will remember my claim to ownership.  Wildlife conservation pioneer Aldo Leopold said, “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us.  When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect”

At our current rate of setting aside about 10 percent of land for wildlife habitat we stand to lose about half of all species in the near future.  Still,  that 10 percent is in jeopardy from the Ammon Bundy mindset.  If control of federal lands is handed to those who live nearest to it will they decide in favor of reducing operating costs over giving migratory birds a place to feed and rest?  Your answer is found in the ongoing decline of species.  Author Paul Brooks was more blunt: “In America today you can murder land for private profit. You can leave the corpse for all to see, and nobody calls the cops.”

If only that were an exaggeration.

(Don Vowell gets on his soapbox regularly in the Keizertimes.)