What would Teddy Roosevelt have done with Cliven and Ammon Bundy?
The botched prosecution of Ammon Bundy and his followers who seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, for six weeks in early 2017, and the recent mistrial of Cliven Bundy because of prosecutorial misconduct, have to be two of the most colossal legal blunders by the U.S. Justice Department in the history of the American West.
Now, a week after the mistrial freed Cliven Bundy after serving two years behind bars, we hear the Bundys boasting about what they might do next.
My question is: What’s being done to make sure this never happens again?
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Oftentimes, I wonder what former President Teddy Roosevelt would have done? T.R. is the one who had the vision to create the American National Wildlife Refuge system in the first place. He would understand that the federal government has to be firm with these law-breakers or face the possibility that we could have anti-government zealots taking over our national parks and refuges on a whim with no fear of retaliation.
I am a longtime outdoor writer, based in Boise, just a few hours’ drive from the Malheur refuge. I have visited the 187,757-acre refuge many times over the past 35 years to go birding, hiking and camping. The refuge is a critical breeding ground for many species of waterfowl including tundra swans, snow geese, ducks, grebes, pelicans and shorebirds. When you see a huge flock of snow geese take off from a lake at the Malheur wildlife refuge, it’s breathtaking.
It made my blood boil the day Ammon Bundy and his anti-federal gun-toting followers drove up to Malheur and took over the place. None of the local ranchers from Burns, Oregon, asked for or wanted their help. It made my blood boil every day of that occupation. I’m sure I was not alone.
Many Americans have no idea how out of step the Bundys are with real ranchers in the West. The management paradigm for ranchers on Western public lands today is to find creative ways to coexist and enhance conditions for wildlife and endangered species. We’ve seen many examples of successful collaboration between ranchers, the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service, and wildlife and conservation interests in Idaho.
Cliven Bundy is stuck in an 1800s selfish mentality, harkening back to the days of violent Range Wars, thinking he can use the public domain to graze livestock and to hell with the rules that everyone else follows.
The recent court decisions in the Bundy cases, unfortunately, do not restore order to our federal public lands. Quite the contrary. But if we had competent people at the helm of the Justice Department and the Interior Solicitor’s Office, the cases could have turned out much differently.
Why, for instance, didn’t the feds charge Ammon Bundy and his followers with felony criminal trespass? I mean, it was abundantly clear to any American watching television or the internet that Ammon Bundy and his followers took over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge at gunpoint, trespassed and remained for six weeks! The evidence was clear!
But no, the feds charged them with “conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs.” Government lawyers failed to prove the conspiracy charge, and the jury acquitted the occupiers. Unbelievable!
Cliven Bundy has no right to graze livestock on federal land without a grazing permit from the BLM. He must be held accountable to pay grazing fees like everyone else. I cannot understand how the BLM has allowed Bundy to continue to graze on BLM without paying fees for decades. Multiple administrations are responsible for this malfeasance.
T.R. has to be rolling in his grave over the outcome of these cases. We need strong leadership at the helm of the Interior Department to ensure that Bundy pays the grazing fees owed to the U.S. Treasury and complies with the same rules that thousands of other ranchers in the West comply with every day.
Steve Stuebner, of Boise, is the author of more than 10 outdoor books and an avid recreationist.