Imagine my dismay to learn, while trying to spend quality time with my spouse's family, that one of my favorite places on the planet is being occupied by an armed militia in apparent retaliation for a perceived unjust jury sentence for ranchers convicted of arson. There is so much conflicting information, and such visceral reaction to this incident, that it is difficult to know where to start. I can only speak for myself, so here it goes.
I have visited the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge a handful of times. It is located in extreme southeast Oregon, and is so remote that it is a long haul from anywhere. The Center Patrol Road is just about guaranteed to give you a flat tire every time you drive it. Still, it is worth the effort and trouble to go. The birds and other wildlife are astounding in their diversity and abundance.
My gut-level reaction to hearing of the takeover of the (at the time vacant) headquarters building was "Get the hell off of my refuge!" It is, of course, your refuge, too, but thanks to this "protest," the refuge is closed until further notice. You are being deprived of your right to visit a public facility paid for with your tax dollars.
That, I believe, is the essence of this whole conflict. The protest is selfishly motivated, hostile, and pits private interests against the public good. This is not what I would classify as domestic terrorism, yet, but there are better ways to publicly appeal a court verdict, if that is what this is really about, and certainly better venues. This is only the tip of the iceberg, though.
The uneasy truce between the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and other federal agencies and private landowners is our current American model for averting what is known as the "tragedy of the commons." This principle dates back perhaps to Aristotle, but certainly to English economist William Forster Lloyd in 1833. His pamphlet was the genesis of the recognition of the potential for abuse of common resources. It was ecologist Garrett Hardin who popularized the term "tragedy of the commons" in 1968 in his essay of that title in the journal Science.
The gist of the argument is that when access to a common resource, such as a cattle pasture, is granted to several stakeholders, each person will act in their own best, short-term interests, such as increasing the number of their own herd. This leads inexorably to the deterioration of that resource.
It can be argued that the leasing of federal lands to ranchers for cattle grazing has prevented irreparable damage to rangeland as a whole by expanding the acreage available for grazing. This is not without consequence, naturally, and success hinges on the cooperation of lessees in the proper, agreed-upon management of the resource.
Violation of laws regarding burning of invasive plants led to the charge of arson when a burn on private land expanded into public land. That much seems to be acknowledged by both parties involved here. What happened in the aftermath is debatable. Here is one side's argument. I would hesitate to call the occupation of refuge headquarters "civil disobedience." It is anything but civil, especially when guns are involved.
It should be noted that your taxes dollars also subsidize the grazing of privately-owned cattle on public land....and at a fraction of the cost a private landowner would charge for grazing. See this story for more about the great deals ranchers get as part of our "socialist" government practices.
The folks holed up in the refuge headquarters building are not terrorists. They are mostly whining cry-babies with guns who think they are getting a raw deal when in fact the feds bend over backwards to appease them. They are hopelessly confusing their "rights" with the privilege of using federal lands for private gain. Yes, ranching is a risky business, but a minority of ranchers do not wish to assume any risk. It is telling that not one of the local communities near the refuge has come out in unanimous support of what is happening. Those engaged in this misguided occupation are clearly extremists.
Do governments have all the answers when it comes to managing resources like rangeland? Of course not. But this kind of behavior threatens to backfire. I can see a day when an incident like this results in the revocation of grazing permits for individuals who participate in unlawful protests; repossession of equipment purchased with government loans; and even more "aggressive" government expansion of public lands as these protestors accuse the feds of doing already. Frankly, at this point, I'd be all for it.