BY PRISCILLA FERAL
We have a chance to reclaim 300 million acres of Western lands in the U.S. for all people, plants and animals if the GOP doesn’t capture the White House this year.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz wants to prevent the federal government from owning more than 50 percent of the land in any state, which would impose drastic changes in Western states, especially Alaska and Nevada. Florida’s Senator Marco Rubio who thought he’d make a dandy commander-in-chief, has backed legislation to allow states to develop mining, natural gas and other energy resources on federal land, and blustered to the Des Moines Register’s editorial board that “the federal government owns far too much land” in Western states.
Both Cruz and Rubio supported an amendment by Alaska’s Senator Lisa Murkowski last year to grease the wheels for returning federal land to state control; in 2014, the Republican National Committee issued a resolution calling for Western states to seize the land. The federal government owns nearly 1 million square miles in Western states.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the uproar over designating wilderness areas was called “the sagebrush rebellion.” Rage at federal land rights flared again during Bill Clinton’s administration in 1993 when President Clinton announced plans to raise monthly livestock grazing fees to $5.00 for western ranchers who dominated federal public lands with cows and sheep – at the expense of wild horses and other indigenous wildlife. Some members of Congress attacked Clinton’s proposal, along with Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. Montana’s Senator Conrad Burns decried the betrayal of ranchers, calling them the best stewards of the land and said hiking grazing fees by 500%, which the meat industry abhorred, showed the lack of knowledge on the part of “Secretary Babbitt and his extremist crowd about current range land conditions.”
The billionaire Koch brothers are the largest fossil fuel dealers around the globe, and they’ve spent millions creating a Super PAC called “Freedom Partners” to stop Hillary Clinton from winning Democratic primaries for the presidential election. The Koch-backed Super PAC filed with the FEC creates propaganda, blogs, You-Tube videos, Op-Ed articles, and all matters of influence.
The Koch’s also forged an alliance with groups and individuals who have militia ties and share intense anti-government ideologies, including the right-wing Bundy family.
The push for massive changes in local control over Western lands percolates with the Koch brothers, who both praise some of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ economic ideas and the antics of Ted Cruz. In addition to wanting to rid America of its national parks, they support – both financially and organizationally – anti-government militants who work to take over national forests and public lands. Working through channels like their “Free the Lands” project and Federalism in Action, the Koch network provides direct support to the ringleader of the land grab movement, Utah state Representative Ken Ivory. In 2012, Utah passed a measure written by Ivory demanding the federal government return its lands to state control, and promised that local control of such real estate would boost Utah’s economy.
The Koch’s also forged an alliance with groups and individuals who have militia ties and share intense anti-government ideologies, including the right-wing Bundy family, Nevada ranchers whose disputes with federal authorities over paying grazing fees provoked an armed standoff in 2014. Earlier this year, armed Oregon ranchers lead by Ammon Bundy occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to portray the popular migratory bird refuge as emblematic of federal tyranny in Oregon — demanding the land be placed under local control for cattle grazing and other ruin.
The Malheur refuge is funded by tax dollars and owned by all U.S. residents, most of whom don’t want a collection of crazed ranchers with automatic rifles plundering it, but that didn’t stop at least six GOP lawmakers from meeting with the militants against the advice of law enforcement officials. On Feb. 12, 2016, when the last occupier was coaxed out of the refuge, he proclaimed, “I’m paying taxes, and it’s going for abortion.”
The Koch’s hold a half-dozen grazing permits on public land in Montana to accommodate their 300,000-acre Matador Ranch. Also, a Koch and Exxon Mobil-funded organization is calling for an end to national parks and privatization of all federally-owned land. The Koch’s want national parks, wilderness areas, national wildlife refuges, and all other federal land transferred to corporate ownership saying it kills the fossil fuel industry. Apparently, there shouldn’t be a scrap of land anywhere they can’t invade with their hands, feet or drilling rigs.
Our government could protect wild-open spaces, habitat for wild horses, wolves, grizzly bears, elk, pronghorn antelopes, prairie dogs, coyotes and other birds. So far, that hasn’t exactly been a trend. When they don’t seem useful to us, animals are resented. Stalked. Rounded up. Killed or otherwise displaced. Doomed cows and sheep owned by ranchers are seen as having a dollar value, so ranchers are relieved from having to compete over water and grasslands with horses, burros, and carnivorous animals. Those inconvenient animals are herded away with little fanfare.
But now, people are beginning to wise up. People don’t want this madness any more.
Ranchers in 11 western U.S. states graze millions of cows and sheep on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, trashing the ecological health of much of the land, while taxpayers subsidize their for-profit operation. These ruminant animals – through no fault of their own, harm native grasses and wildlife, trample stream banks, and degrade the water that plants, fish, birds and wild horses, and other animals need.
As authors George Wuerthner and Mollie Matteson wrote in Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West:
Livestock production, by its very nature, is a domestication of the landscape. It requires using the bulk of water, forage, and space for the benefit of one or two domestic animals – at the expense of native creatures.
But that’s not all. You’ll find more cattle in Vermont than on all the public lands in Nevada. Missouri has more cows than Montana. Louisiana produces more beef than Wyoming. The western range isn’t the hamburger hub we might think it is. Yet U.S. taxpayers are stuck subsidizing western ranchers and the meat industry through the federal government.
Clearly, there should be an outright end to subsidizing western ranchers, and an end to private grazing on public lands.
Fellow taxpayers, we spend oodles of money on federal grazing projects that don’t even amount to three percent of U.S. beef production. Worse, most of these subsidies go to millionaires –large corporations and hobby ranchers. Beer giant Anheuser-Busch, hotel mogul Barron Hilton, the Hunt Oil Company of Dallas, media mogul Ted Turner, the Packard family of Hewlett-Packard fame, the Metropolitan Life Company, the Agri-Beef Company and Nevada First Corporation. These cattle barons who are unwilling to share public lands with wildlife are charged $1.69 for each cow-and-calf pair or five sheep each month – to graze on lands that shouldn’t have cows and sheep at all.
Whether ranches are profitable or not, they’re status symbols. They provide retreats for meetings with major clients. Clearly, there should be an outright end to subsidizing western ranchers, and an end to private grazing on public lands. Unfortunately, President Obama appointed Ken Salazar, a cattle rancher, as Interior Secretary, and Salazar along with his replacement later have acted mainly to the benefit of ranchers at the expense of wildlife. However, there’s a sea change possible with a new President of the United States.
While Donald Trump and his avid hunter sons Eric and Don say they don’t support selling federal lands to states like Cruz, their ideas for the government agencies responsible for protecting federal public lands would be a nightmare for wildlife. When it comes to hunters’ rights, Trump didn’t waffle in an interview with Petersen’s Hunting, stating that a U.S. Fish and Wildlife director appointed by him would “ideally be a hunter.”
Both Eric and Don pose for photos in Africa and elsewhere holding the bloody remains of leopards, crocodiles, Dall sheep, wildebeests. giraffes, and other animals. There’s a photo of Eric with a sawed-off elephant’s tail in one hand and a knife in the other, standing next to an elephant’s body. Let’s not turn America’s woodlands into war zones so that Trump’s children, who fantasize about running a branch of the federal government, find violating birds and animals on federal public lands a form of excitement.