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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 more than 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 can ever focus on is their hostile takeover of the Wildlife Refuge. 

The twenty or so demonstrators who took over the 160,000 acre Refuge for almost a month were described in the media as “armed militants”.  Reporters armed with cameras and pens, and no knowledge of the Constitution turned their little act of civil disobedience into a major refusal to follow police orders and they totally ignored the government’s ongoing failure to follow the Constitution in their reporting. The underlying dispute over the Federal government’s unlawful management of 700 million acres of State land won’t even be discussed, not by the media and not in  the courtroom. It isn’t going to be settled in a court of law.  The defendants are being tried on criminal charges arising from their failure to disperse and leave the Refuge when they were ordered to do so by the police, sheriff, and the FBI. Congress still controls America’s 700 million acres of public land and Congress, not the courts has the power to dispose of this land as required in the Constitution. Congress has the power to repeal the Federal Land Policy Management Act of 1976.  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? Why did they chose the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County as the right place to draw attention to their cause? Their courageous actions sparked a frenzy of media reporting from the little town of Burns (population 2,700) for which the people of Burns were totally unprepared. The men and one woman who occupied the Refuge were not only protesting the unjust occupation of State land by the Federal government, but also the unjust incarceration of two Oregon ranchers on federal charges stemming from what really are traditional land management and weed control practices… the same practices that have been used for centuries. Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted of arson for burning weeds on their land and sentenced to spend six months and one year respectively in jail. After they served their time they were released, but the Obama Justice Department under Loretta Lynch sent both men back to jail to serve the remainder of a five year prison sentence.  Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, and Lavoy Finicum came here to Harney County, Oregon  to try to help the Hammonds and to call attention to the plight of all Western ranchers at the hands of the Federal government. 

Since all wealth comes from the land, and over half of the land in Western States is owned and controlled by Congress many counties in Western States are struggling to meet their budget needs. The Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) that counties receive from the Federal government do nothing to solve the underlying problem of how to ensure that local government is self-supporting. Some counties are not even able to provide basic government services without a handout from Congress because so much of the land in these counties is not on the tax rolls. It is owned by the Federal Government which does not 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 some of their Constitutional rights when they came to Oregon. While these rights are too numerous to mention and they are not all  listed in the Constitution, the powers of the Federal Government are all listed in the Constitution. Besides these there are no others.  They are limited and few, and they are all enumerated in the Constitution, and no where does it say that the Federal Government has the authority to occupy vast amounts of State land and use it for whatever purpose it wishes.

The day I saw two Oregon State Police officers shoot a man in the back for challenging the Federal government’s authority to control more than half  the State of Oregon I realized that something much bigger than Lavoy Finicum had died in America. He was shot in the back while his hands were up in the air, and then they left his lifeless body on the ground right where they shot him until the next morning when he was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead.  They just left Lavoy Finicum to bleed to death in the snow. That’s when I realized that respect for the Constitution was not the only thing that has died in my country. Respect for life and liberty has ceased to exist in America as well.

Oregon became a State in 1859. Before that it was a part of a larger territory which included several soon to be States. The ownership and administration of this land was contested by three different countries as well as a number of different Indian tribes. The controversy over the ownership of 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 land in 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 the Oregon Territory from England. After a border dispute with Canada was settled by negotiation , Oregon became the 33rd State to join the Union, but 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 by just two departments of the Federal Government… the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. It is time for this occupation of Oregon to 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.


Corroborating Sources

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