The controversy over the Federal government’s control of over half the land in the State of Oregon didn’t just begin with the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and it isn’t going to end with the murder of Lavoy Finicum and the arrest of Ammon and Ryan Bundy on federal charges stemming from their month long occupation of the Federal facility. Their presence at the Refuge was intended to call attention to the Federal Government’s unjust and unconstitutional occupation of over 700 million acres of land in twelve Western States, but all the government and the media could focus on was their hostile takeover of the Wildlife Refuge.
The twenty or so demonstrators who occupied the 160,000 acre Refuge were described in the media as “armed militants”. Reporters armed with cameras and pens, and little knowledge of the Constitution turned this act of civil disobedience into a refusal to follow police orders instead of a government failure to follow the Constitution, and the underlying dispute over the Federal government’s unlawful management of 700 million acres of public land will not be settled during their trial in Oregon District Court because the subject won’t even be addressed. The defendants are being tried on criminal charges arising from their failure to disperse and leave the Refuge when ordered to do so by police, the Sheriff, and the FBI. Congress controls America’s 700 million acres of public land and Congress, not the courts has the power to settle this dispute over the management of America’s public land. It is highly unlikely that the courts will ever get involved.
What are the issues that led Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and Lavoy Finicum to come to Oregon, and why did they chose the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County as the place to draw attention to their cause? Their actions at the Refuge focused worldwide attention on the nearby town of Burns, Oregon (population 2,700) for which the people of that town were totally unprepared. The truth is that these men came to Oregon to protest the unjust incarceration of two Oregon ranchers named Dwight and Steven Hammond on federal charges stemming from traditional land management practices which have been used for centuries. The Hammonds were convicted of arson for burning weeds on their land and sentenced to six months and one year in jail respectively. Then after they served their time and were released, the Obama Justice Department under Loretta Lynch sent both men back to jail to serve the remainder of five more years. The Bundys and Lavoy Finicum came to Harney County Oregon to call attention to the plight of the Hammonds and the plight of all Western ranchers at the hands of the Federal government.
All wealth comes from the land, and over half the land in the West is owned and controlled by the Federal government. That is why so many Western States and Western Counties are struggling to meet their budget needs. Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) which Oregon Counties receive from the Federal government do nothing to solve the underlying problem of how to make sure that local government is self-supporting. County governments are not even able to provide basic government services without a handout from Congress because so much of their land is not even on the tax rolls. Too much of the land is owned by the Federal Government which does not pay local property taxes.
Without private property there is not a tax base to pay for much needed government services like police and fire departments, and public schools. Without strong support for private property freedom is just a theory, not a reality. The right to own property and the right to pursue happiness are secured in the Bill of Rights. The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances whenever any of our constitutional rights are violatedby the government is also guaranteed in the Constitution. Our constitutional rights are guaranteed in Oregon just like they are in any other State.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy were exercising their Constitutional rights when they came to Oregon. Before that they drafted legislation in Nevada in 2015 to address some of the same issues that brought them to Oregon… regarding the control of State land by the Federal government. Unfortunately their efforts were in vain and their legislation didn’t pass the Nevada State legislature . .
While our rights are too numerous to all be listed in the Constitution, the powers of the Federal Government are not. They are all listed. They are limited and few, and they are all enumerated in the Constitution. No where does it say that the Federal Government has the power to occupy vast amounts of State land.
The day that I saw two Oregon State Police officers shoot a man in the back for merely challenging the Federal government’s authority to control half of the State of Oregon I realized that something much bigger than Lavoy Finicum had died. Police shot him in the back while his hands were up in the air. Then they completely ignored him while they shot numerous tear gas canisters and live ammunition at the other passengers in the truck which included two women. They let Lavoy Finicum bleed to death in the snow. That’s when I realized that all respect for life and liberty as well as the Constitution have ceased to exist in our government.
Oregon became a State in 1859. Before that it was a part of a huge territory which included several states and whose ownership and administration was contested by three different countries and a number of different Indian tribes. The controversy over the ownership of State land in Oregon like so much of the land in other Western States is much bigger than what happened at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. What used to be called the Oregon Territory included the future States of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho as well as parts of Montana and Wyoming, and most of the province of British Columbia. In 1846 the United States purchased theOregon Territory from England and after a border dispute with Canada was negotiated, Oregon became the 33rd State to join the Union, however for the last 157 years Oregon has remained an occupied territory… It is occupied by the Federal Government.
Fifty three percent of Oregon is administered and controlled by just two departments of the United States Government… the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. It is time for this occupation of Oregon to come to an end.
When Americans think of “occupied territory” we don’t usually think of the peaceful Pacific Northwest. We think of more turbulent places in the world like the Middle East where Jews and Arabs have been fighting for control of that disputed land ever since Israel became a country and even long before that. Whether they ever find a way to live together in peace is a question that remains to be answered, but for Americans living in occupied territory right here in our own country, in occupied Oregon for example the idea of occupation of land is not theoretical.. It is real.
Twelve Western States are occupied by the Federal Government. They have been occupied ever since they were admitted to the Union. Approximately half of the land west of the Rocky Mountains is occupied territory. This amounts to 700 million acres of land which is administered and controlled by Congress primarily through two federal agencies… the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. That amount of land controlled by Congress is bigger than the size of most countries. The fact that Congress controls half the land in twelve Western States is in direct violation of its enumerated powers. This is what prompted the Sagebrush Rebellion in 1979. It is also what prompted to Bundys to come to Oregon in 2016.
The Property Rights Clause only gives Congress the power to manage public lands until they are permanently disposed of, but these public lands must be disposed of. The only land that Congress has the authority to retain is a one hundred square mile area called the District of Columbia, plus enough additional land to on which to build “forts and ports and other needful buildings”. Congress is required to find a permanent resolution for all the public lands it manages which conforms to the Constitution. It must dispose of these lands which it holds. The proper resolution is to return these lands to the States from which they were taken when these States were admitted to the Union.
The disposal process can be managed by Congress. The land can be returned to the States with the stipulation that every State can determine how its own lands are to be disposed of. Public hearings can be held. Title to the land can be transferred or sold and the proceeds can be used to pay down the National Debt which is unsustainable at over 20 trillion dollars. No studies have to be conducted in order to prove this can be successfully done because it is already being don in the 38 other States east of the Rocky Mountains.
It had been the custom of Congress in time past to dispose of all lands acquired by the Federal government, but in 1976 Congress passed the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) and it began its current policy of retaining control of all remaining public land. The difference between the Federal government’s land management practices before and after 1976 can be seen in this map of America’s public lands.
Only three percent of the land east of the Mississippi River is controlled by the Federal Government while fifty percent of all the land west of the Rocky Mountains remains under the firm grip of the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. The disparity between Western States and Eastern States is enormous and still growing. It violates the Equal Footing Principle by which all new States were supposed to be admitted to the Union on the same basis as all of the other States..
State Admitted % owned by Federal government
1) California 1850 45%
2) Oregon 1859 53%
3) Nevada 1864 85%
4) Colorado 1876 37%
5) Montana 1889 30%
6) Washington 1889 35%
7) Wyoming 1890 42%
8) Idaho 1890 50%
9) Utah 1896 57%
10) Arizona 1912 48%
11) New Mexico 1912 41%
12) Alaska 1959 69%
The occupation of California and Oregon began just prior to the Civil War. The occupation of Nevada began during the Civil War, and the occupation of the other ten Western State began shortly after the Reconstruction period following the end of the Civil War during which time the Federal Government occupied Southern States. The occupation of America didn’t come to end when Federal troops pulled out of the South. The focus of Washington’s attention merely shifted from the South to the West. It’s time for the occupation of Western States to come to an end too.
Please sign this Petition requesting Congress to begin disposing of land it controls in America’s Western States which were admitted to the Union after 1850.