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Time to End the Occupation of Oregon by the Federal Government

Posted by Scott Rohter on Saturday, April 23, 2016


Burns Oregon photos 2



The controversy over the Federal government’s control of over half the land in Oregon didn’t begin with the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge nor will it end with the death of Lavoy Finicum or the arrest of Ammon and Ryan Bundy on federal charges stemming from their month long protest in Harney County. Their peaceful demonstration at the Refuge was intended to call attention to the Federal Government’s unjust and unconstitutional occupation of 700 million acres of land in twelve Western States, but all the government and the media could focus on was their occupation of the Wildlife Refuge. 

The twenty or so demonstrators were described in the press as “armed militants”, and reporters armed with cameras and pens turned their peaceful protest into a refusal to obey police orders instead of the government’s failure to follow the Constitution. The dispute over the Federal government’s management of public lands will not be settled in court because it won’t even be addressed at their trials. The defendants are being tried on criminal charges resulting from their failure to disperse when asked to leave the Refuge. Congress controls our public lands so it is Congress, not the courts that has the power to settle the dispute over the management of public lands.

What are the issues that drove Ammon and Ryan Bundy to come to Oregon from Utah and Nevada, and Lavoy Finicum from Arizona? Why did they decide to occupy the Wildlife Refuge near the little town of Burns? Their takeover of the deserted Refuge provoked worldwide attention. They came here to protest against the unjust incarceration of two Oregon ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond on federal charges stemming from land management practices they used on their Harney County ranch for which offenses they had already served time in jail. The Bundys and Lavoy Finicum also came here to call attention to the plight of all Western ranchers at the hands of the Federal government. 

All wealth comes from the land, and half the land west of the Rocky Mountains is owned and controlled by the Federal government. That is why so many Western Counties are struggling to meet their budgets. Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) which Oregon Counties receive from the Federal government does nothing to solve the underlying problem of how to make local government self-supporting. County governments are not able to fund basic government services because so much of its land is not on the county tax rolls. Too much of the land is owned by the Federal Government which does not pay property taxes.

Without strong support for private property there is not a broad enough tax base to pay for needed County government services. Also without strong support for private property rights freedom doesn’t exist. The right to own property and the right to pursue happiness is secured in the Bill of Rights. The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances whenever any of our rights are violated is guaranteed in the Constitution. Our constitutional rights are guaranteed in Oregon just like they are in any other State.

Ammon and Ryan Bundy  and Lavoy Finicum were exercising their Constitutional rights when they came to Oregon. Prior to arriving in Harney County they had drafted legislation in 2015 in Nevada addressing the administration of State land by the Federal government, but their efforts to work within the system and petition the government for a redress of grievances fell on deaf ears. .

While all of our rights are too numerous to be listed in the Constitution, the powers of the Federal Government are limited and few and they are all enumerated in the Constitution. No where does it say that the Federal Government is supposed to occupy such vast amounts of State land.

The day I watched two Oregon State Police officers shoot Lavoy Finicum in the back for challenging the Federal government’s authority to own half the land in Oregon I realized that something much bigger than Lavoy Finicum died. The police just let him bleed to death in the snow. That’s when I realized that respect for the Constitution as well as tolerance for acts of civil disobedience have both ceased to exist in America.

Oregon became a State in 1859. Before that it was a part of a vast territory whose ownership and administration was contested by three different countries and a variety of different Indian tribes. The controversy over the ownership of State land in Oregon like 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 this Oregon Territory from England and after a border dispute with Canada was settled, Oregon became the 33rd State to enter 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 two departments of the United States Government… the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. It is time for this occupation of Oregon by the Federal Government to come to an end.

When Americans think of occupied territory we don’t usually think of the peaceful Pacific Northwest. We usually think of more turbulent places like the Middle East where people have been fighting for control of that contested land ever since Israel became a country. Whether all or part of Israel remains occupied by Jews or Arabs or both living together in peace is a question that still remains to be settled, but for Americans living in occupied territory right here in our own country, Oregon is not the first nor the last State to be occupied.

Twelve Western States are occupied by the Federal Government and they have been occupied to one extent or another ever since they were admitted to the Union. Half of the land in twelve States is occupied territory. This amounts to 700 million acres of land which is owned and controlled by the United States Government. That is bigger than the size of most countries.

All of the Federal Government’s powers are enumerated in the Constitution, but there is no power vested in Congress to be our country’s largest landowner. 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, and it 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 ultimately have to be disposed of. The only land that Congress has the authority to retain forever is a hundred square miles called the District of Columbia and enough land to build forts and ports and other needful buildings on.  Congress must find a permanent resolution for the public lands which it manages which conforms to the Constitution. It must dispose of the remainder of these lands which it now holds. The proper resolution should be to return these lands to the States and the Counties and the people from which they were taken when Western 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 19 trillion dollars. No studies need to be done because all the details on how to successfully manage such land is already available from the 38 other States east of the Rocky Mountains which already do so.

Congress used to dispose of all lands acquired by the Federal government. Then in 1976 Congress passed the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) and began to implement its current policy of retaining control of all 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 total amount of land controlled by the Federal Government is bigger than the size of most countries and the disparity between Western States and Eastern States is still growing. This disparity violates the Equal Footing Principle that was supposed to be applied to Western States as they were admitted to the Union.


                   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 started before the Civil War. The occupation of Nevada began during the Civil War, and the occupation of other Western State began shortly after the Civil War ended and the Reconstruction Period following the Civil War was over during which time the Federal Government also occupied all Southern States. The occupation of America didn’t end when Federal troops pulled out of the South.  The focus of Washington’s occupation 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 the Petition requesting Congress to begin disposing of the land it controls in America’s twelve Western States which were admitted to the Union after 1850.


Corroborating Sources

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