Even though the standoff in Oregon does not have a direct connection to Lincoln County, County Commission chair Kevin Phillips says it does underlie a problem that does affect Lincoln County.
The situation between number of ranchers and militia who have occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge office 50 miles southeast of Burns this week, and for however long it draws out, “demonstrates to me that once again we are living under a situation of horrible tyranny in the west relative to the public lands, and the feds have no sense of balance, fair play, historical considerations, etc. It confirms to me something must be done with the lands. The federal government is a horrible manager.”
Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven, 46, both Harney County, Oregon ranchers, were convicted of arson and spent about 15 month collectively in prison for starting fires in 2001 and 2006 on their land. The men claimed they started the backfires to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires. However, the backfires got out of hand and burned 127 acres of BLM land.
Just before the end of 2015, a federal judge ruled that the sentences served by the Hammond’s were not long enough, and both had to go back to prison for a minimum of four more years.
Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy of Bunkerville, Nevada, and several others, then took over the wildlife refuge building and asserted the federal government does not have the right to own or control land inside the state.
Phillips, a member of the American Lands Council and appointed by Gov. Sandoval to a Nevada public lands task force, said those organizations feel the same way. “The issue of land control is a problem that needs addressing, whatever state it is in.”
The Hammonds both peacefully reported to the Terminal Island Prison in San Pedro, California Jan. 4 to finish their sentences and said they did not want Bundy and his group of about 20 protesters to take the action they have. Phillips did not condone the actions by the Bundy group, but has voiced his concerns several times at county commission meetings about current activities of the American Lands Council.
In the 1970s, Nevada and other states pushed for local control in what was known as the Sagebrush Rebellion. Supporters wanted more land for cattle grazing, mining and timber harvesting.
The ALC has stated the federal government owns millions of acres of land in the 11 western states and in the past several decades the accepted conventions around cattle grazing and the federal coding governing it have come into disharmony.
Phillips, and many others are concerned things like what happened with Cliven Bundy in southern Nevada in April 2014, and now in eastern Oregon, could just as easily happen in Lincoln County. “You threaten the federal government’s power base somewhere, and they are ready and willing to act,” he said.
He said all unappropriated federal lands that exist within the various western states should be transferred to those states, which, he said, “the federal government has a commitment as stated in the Northwest Ordinance passed by Congress July 13, 1787.”
The Bureau of Land Management owns 85 percent of land in Nevada and 97.3 percent in Lincoln County.