Jailing of Oregon ranchers highlights double standard on federal lands.
There is an old saying: government power is not absolute until it can be exercised arbitrarily. Unfortunately, we see arbitrary power increasingly exercised by our federal government.
Take the stand-off in Oregon at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The protesters are occupying buildings in response to the federal government’s re-jailing of two local ranchers.
The ranchers were charged with arson under a federal anti-terrorism statute for starting prescribed burn fires on their ranch – when the fires spread and burned 140 acres of adjacent federal public land. Perhaps the ranchers did not take proper precautions, but the punishment of additional federal prison time appears disproportionate to the crime.
How so? The federal government conducts prescribed burns as a land management tool and sometimes these get out of control. In April 2013 the U.S. Forest Service’s prescribed burn near Lemmon, S.D., got out of control and scorched 11,000 acres of public and private land. The federal response to the $2.5 million tort claim from locals: “Our review of the claim discloses no liability on the part of the United States. Therefore your Federal Tort Claims Act claim is denied.”
How is that for a double-standard?
Fred Birnbaum, vice president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, Boise