Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Public Lands

The so called militia that has invaded the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (can I call them outside agitators?) may be a misguided bunch of angry white men, but their intention to get us to take a close look at how our public lands are managed is worthy of attention. The BLM, and to a lesser extent the Forest Service, have to balance a very diverse set of interests and priorities. While the Bundy bunch want to be able to graze cattle wherever they please at no cost to them, many others feel that the BLM has sold out to the cattle industry using taxpayer dollars to subsidize ranches that could not survive otherwise. Much as the Forest Service did for much of the past 50 years allowing logging companies to reap huge profits while devastating the very forests that they were supposed to be "managing", the BLM has allowed much of the west to be turned into virtual desert through over grazing.

At the same time both of these agencies have devoted much energy into wildlife preservation and to provide recreational opportunities. Like the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge much of south eastern Oregon is home to a huge number of migratory birds. A little to the west is Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, home to Antelope, Big Horn Sheep, and a lot of other creatures that could not survive if the ranchers had access to this land. If it were not for these federal agencies many more species would be extinct. They may not be doing the best job they can, but they are doing something.

So what are the responsibilities as stewards of the land, and who should be these stewards? The Bundy bunch have already stated their desire to turn Malheur National Wildlife Refuge over to ranchers, loggers, and miners. We've seen what the "make a quick buck and get out" attitude has done to the land. Obviously they can not be trusted as stewards, but perhaps the current government agencies can not either. Who then?

I nominate the Native Americans. It's their land anyhow, and their culture is based on a oneness with the land and living in harmony with the Earth. If there are any people that can lay claim to be stewards of our public lands it is the Native people. There are many positives to this idea. Firstly it would be a huge step towards making things right in view of our nations's shameful history. We can restore dignity and meaning to a people who's dignity and meaning was stripped away over the past two centuries. We can give our Native people a real role to play in preserving the land for future generations. And we can benefit from their unique understanding of the natural environment to do a much better job than even our best trained biologists and environmentalists.

I'm not talking about just turning over the public lands to existing tribal governments, or making them part of any reservations. We should keep our existing agencies and infrastructure in place, only start hiring and training more and more Native Americans until they are running the whole thing. The agencies can then work together with local tribes to manage the land. The lands should remain in the public trust and managed for the benefit of everyone, with priorities adjusted so that preservation and restoration come first, and profit making comes in dead last. What's in it for the tribes? Meaningful employment for one. Employment that could go a long way toward improving morale and living conditions. An assurance that no more treaties will be broken and that Native hunting and fishing rights will be honored. But also an opportunity to work together at the national level and to take their rightful place as Americans.

Let's acknowledge the Native Americans as the true stewards of our public lands and give the Bundy bunch and the rest of the angry white men notice that their days of profiting from land their ancestors stole are long over.