Over the weekend, a number of armed protesters—led by controversial rancher Cliven Bundy’s son Ammon—took over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon in protest of the imprisonment of father-and-son ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were sentenced to jail on arson charges on public lands.
While the headlines may be dominated by the tense situation, it’s worth remembering that the armed extremists occupying federal property are asking for the same thing some politicians in Washington are pushing for: To transfer control over national public lands to local control. In fact, Utah Reps. Bishop and Stewart chair a Congressional forum entitled the “Federal Land Action Group,” which has met twice this year to discuss proposals to transfer American public lands back to the control of the states.
And the strange bedfellows aren’t confined to Washington, D.C. The Center for Western Priorities published a report in the fall detailing a number of ties between these anti-government extremists and western policymakers at the state level, who are involved in an effort to transfer American lands away from the American people.
If the origins of the plan to seize national public lands weren’t scary enough, there are a number of reasons why this would be a terrible idea, including restricted access to public lands and forcing states to inherit the high costs of fighting wildfires in public lands. So as long as the headlines are dominated by a scary situation in Oregon, it’s worth remembering that there’s also very real danger of these ideas finding a home in the halls of Congress and state legislatures across the West.