My one take-away from the Nevada dust-up between the government and a cantankerous rancher named Clive Bundy was this: Cows and tree-sitters should be treated equally.
If we assume that the Bureau of Land Management actually owns the 247.3 million acres of America’s land — and not we the people — it has a right to protect its land from deadbeat cows and cranky ranchers. Much as it has the right to protect its land from tree-sitters, or other squatters.
The fact that the government is at odds with a rancher isn’t surprising.
Ranchers are hard-working people who get up early every morning trying to eke out a living with their bare hands, sweat and blood.
The government is the opposite of all of that. It waits for the sweat and blood to hit the dirt and then shows up in an air-conditioned government SUV with its handout.
After all, the government has an obligation to take care of people who don’t want to get up early, sweat and spill blood because it’s easier to sit home and watch Judge Judy.
It’s why the BLM must charge ranchers more than a dollar a month per cow for grazing fees. There are bills to pay and pork barrels to fill.
Bundy has been fighting the government for a long time. It seems his family has been ranching in that godforsaken slice of the Silver State long before there was a BLM and doesn’t think he should have to pay the government to graze on land he maintains actually belongs to the state.
Never mind that the courts already shot down that argument more than once, ordering Bundy to pay up or bring his cows home.
I’m not sure why the BLM was so determined to fight Bundy, since the land is really not good for much of anything, except aliens and maybe a rare desert tortoise.
Under the heading of “choose your battles,” it seems the BLM could have found a better fight, maybe on land it owns that someone actually wants to visit.
I’ve been to Bundy’s part of Nevada — it’s not at the end of the world, but you can see it from there.
Not long ago tree-sitters were occupying trees on BLM land right here in Douglas County. Last December, Oregon Public Broadcasting interviewed a young man who went by the name of Turtle, who was occupying a tree that had been sold by the BLM to a subsidiary of Roseburg Forest Products. That company paid $1 million for the trees (called the White Castle timber sale near Myrtle Creek) and planned to start logging last fall.
Then Turtle and few other tree-sitters, representing Cascadia Forest Defenders, showed up and everything came to a screeching halt.
Back in Nevada, meanwhile, Bundy’s cows were still grazing on BLM land and the endangered turtles were probably wondering why.
Imagine minding your own business when a cow wanders up and drops a cow pie right on your shell.
I know … yuck.
Tired of the back and forth, the BLM decided to remove Bundy’s cows by force, sending in helicopters and hired cowboys to round up the 400 or so cows, calves and bulls.
The bill to do that was roughly $1 million, or just about what Bundy owed the government for decades of illegal grazing.
Only Uncle Sam would spend a million to collect a million.
The Bundys, of course, didn’t just stand there watching the government round up their cows. There was a time you could get shot stealing someone’s cows and more than a few Bundy supporters gave that some serious thought, which is why it made national news.
Bundy also wondered why the government would round up what could potentially amount to 500,000 hamburgers per year. “Nobody is thinking about that. Why would they?” he asked one reporter.
A lot of people don’t trust the government (and I can’t imagine why) and are looking for any excuse to throw down. Fortunately, the government backed down, deciding that piece of wasteland wasn’t worth getting shot over.
The poor cows — a little traumatized by the choppers and all the commotion — are back grazing on BLM land, trying to tiptoe around the rare turtles that hadn’t seen that much activity since Martians landed there.
The BLM never bothered sending choppers or ropers after the Douglas County tree-sitters who were also costing money and more trouble than Bundy’s cows.
It’s probably why the Cascadia Forest Defenders have gotten so bold and threatening. They assume that all they need to do is occupy a tree and that nobody will do much about it.
All I’m looking for is a little consistency. If the BLM is adamant about protecting the 247.3 million acres under its jurisdiction, it needs to stop giving preferential treatment to cows.
Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.