THE OCCUPATION OF MALHEUR NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

At the Refuge

At the Refuge

At the heart of the dispute of the Bundy family and their occupying tribe of ranchers and sympathizers is a fiercely-held belief that they are entitled to a “Western Way of Life.” On the face of it, it isn’t clear what a Western Way of Life really means, but we might infer some meaning from the manner in which the armed occupiers forced their entry into the Wildlife Refuge. This belief is further underscored by an inflexible understanding that this Way of Life is a sacred and God-given right, and supersedes all others. The Bundy’s and their backers genuinely believe that they have God’s mandate to destroy open space and refuges. God is in agreement that they are to use the land for their highest good, and no one else’s. By implication, God does not care about the other species, plant and animal, that comprise these lands. He does not care that the land has a sacred ancient history belonging to the Paiute Indians that goes back thousands of years. He does not care about the land itself. He only cares about the Western Way of Life according to scripture, a là the Holy Book of Bundy.

The ranchers’ perceived rights are spawned from a consciousness that believes that some people are more entitled than others, and that certain ways of life are more sacred and more godly, regardless of the impact and consequences to other people, animals, and ecosystems, and regardless of the land’s actual ancestral history. Whether you believe that raising and slaughtering cattle for their meat is conscionable and/or ecologically appropriate, and/or abetted by the Almighty or not, the facts are indisputable. Cattle-ranching, requiring as it does thousands of acres of land, is an outworn extravaganza that is not sustainable, and has not been sustainable for quite some time. Cattle-ranching will continue to destroy the lives of species whose habitats have been stolen from them, and will also destroy the ecosystems that comprise those habitats. The manifesto behind these deeds observes no universal consensus – only a private agenda. There are other costs as well – American taxpayers are subsidizing grazing of these lands. From whence issues this magnitude of hubris that can demand such tribute?

History of Ranching is Violent

The history of ranching in this country has often been a violent and bloody one. Ranchers have been at odds with anyone and anything that deliberately or innocently stood in the way of their right to graze cattle on federal lands. And yet, they have legally been aided and abetted. And yet, they continue to illegally force access to Malheur in Oregon. Remember 2014’s standoff with the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM), courtesy of Cliven Bundy? That standoff was an armed confrontation between protesters and law enforcement that developed from a 20-year legal dispute between the BLM and cattle rancher Cliven Bundy over unpaid grazing fees on federally owned land in southeastern Nevada. Cliven Bundy still owes over $1 million in fees. Moreover, the land to which Cliven Bundy claims ancestral rights was originally inhabited by the Moapa Paiute people. At Malheur, the Paiute Indians claims to sacred, ancestral land go back 15,000 years, long before the Bundy’s and their kinsmen were there. Yet, the Bundy’s insist that these lands belong to them.

The Bundy family accuses the federal government of tyranny and oppression because it won’t hand over to them our national parks, wildlife refuges, wildlife, and protected open spaces for them and theirs to do as they see fit. The irony of the Bundy’s and their tribe’s claims to oppression by the federal government is this – they have benefited from federal business loans, low grazing fees, federal subsidized farming, and social security checks.

Dwight and Steven Hammond Incinerate Federal Land

The occupiers at Malheur are also in disagreement over the imprisonment of a father and son, Dwight and Steven Hammond, who intentionally set fire to many acres of federal land, killing an entire herd of deer, and destroying habitat for various species. The Hammonds, like the Bundy’s, were also protesting the tyranny of the federal government in keeping lands that ranchers should rightfully have for their own specific uses.

Meeting the Needs of a Few Humans At Everyone’s Expense

The interlopers don’t care about ecology or riparian habitats that belong to other species. They don’t care about other species’ right to live. They don’t care about preserving the beauty inherent to these lands. They don’t care about the balance of life. And it’s not just that they don’t care; they are hell-bent on taking over these lands to meet their needs, and their needs only. In the end, these selfish goals will have short-term, disastrous results. The courage of the cattle-ranchers convictions to do as they please is also evidenced by their tearing down fences at Malheur to allow local cattle ranchers access. The complete lack of regard and contempt for the work that has been done at Malheur to preserve its habitat is beyond comprehension. Cattle-ranching on federal lands is a way of life that is not sustainable, and one that disregards to an extreme the needs of other people, animals, plants, and the planet. Wild horses are also suffering from the increasingly restricted acreage on federal lands – in the mistaken belief that they are causing damage. This is a lie perpetuated by private interests. Horses don’t damage these ecosystems – cattle do. The misfortunate cattle are themselves pawns of a mindset that sees their value in commodities. The facts out there are that the commercial beef industry – even cattle grazing as opposed to factory farming – is downright cruel, wasteful, and toxic to the environment, to many species, and to the cattle themselves.

Supporting the Destruction of Other Species

The Bundy’s and other ranchers benefit from the “animal damage control” program in which federal employees kill off nearby predators that allegedly present a danger to cattle. The livestock predation myth is another big lie. The myth is that black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, foxes, wolves, and coyotes kill lots of cattle. The truth is that less than a quarter of one percent of the American cattle inventory was lost to native carnivores and dogs in 2010, according to a Department of Agriculture report. The government’s own data shows that the real killers of cattle are not a few endangered wolves or other wildlife – it’s illness and weather. Yet, the predation myth has directly contributed to a federal, 100-year, paramilitary assault on millions of native carnivores. This taking of animal life is outrageous, all the more so because it is in support of an extremely narrow band of self-serving interests.

In addition to the systematic murder of wildlife, Western ranchers are responsible for a disproportionate amount of taxpayer subsidies compared to the other 39 states: In 1994 this program cost $55.9 million nationwide, of which roughly $22 million was spent on western livestock operations.

All Beings Have a Right to the Tree of Life

All beings have the right to have their basic needs met. I would include among human needs the right to shelter, food, water, clothing, education, medicine and opportunities to develop one’s gifts so that each is personally fulfilled and also able to contribute according to their unique skills and interests. Plant and animal consciousness have as much right as human consciousness to be here. Their ecological contributions have been scientifically documented. Beyond that, the beauty, diversity, joy, art and spirituality that animals and nature inspire are not measurable in material terms. There is an evolutionary contribution, both spiritual and physical, that animal consciousness offers. Shamans would argue that without animal consciousness, humans would go crazy and eventually cease to exist. With the death of every animal, we lose a vital aspect of universal consciousness. We lose multiple strands of evolution. This is further underscored when species go extinct.

Human Beings Need to Support Goals that Will Benefit Everyone

Human beings need to support goals that will benefit everyone, not just partisan interests. Until all beings have their needs met, there will be conflict and violence. This is where visionary leadership is called for. This is where grassroots communities come together – to understand the core principles of sustainability, the sacredness of life and the right to life, and the mandate to support this. There is an insidious and very large dark undercurrent at work at the occupation of Malheur – the fear that there is not enough for everyone; that everyone can’t have their needs met. Period. That kind of thinking inevitably creates the myth that only some deserve access to resources – and who decides that? Armed militias? Terrorists? Wealth and privilege? Legislative cronyism? What if it’s not true that global or local resources are insufficient to meet everyone’s needs? What if collectively, each brought to the table their unique talents and agreed to focus on creating solutions based on the assumption that there is enough to go around? What if by co-creating, we can innovate the systems and methods, employing the spirit of cooperation, to make that happen? What if we truly believed that everyone has a right to the tree of life and that any other perception was unthinkable and unacceptable? What if? To be sure, none of these questions are new or particularly resonant with insight. We’ve been asking them for a long, long time. When do we plan to answer them?

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