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View from the bottom rung - May 3, 2014

If you grew up on the land, ever made a living from it, ever experienced the pure unadulterated feeling of freedom one gets from living in the wide open breezes in your face spaces, chances are you have an affinity with rancher Cliven Bundy of Bunkerville, Nevada.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is attempting to shut down his ranching operation, a family enterprise apparently ongoing since the 1800s. Bunkerville, located in an arid region north of Las Vegas alongside interstate 15 and just south of Mesquite began as a Mormon settlement, one of many desert oasis-like areas the early religious pioneers sought out and developed during the explorative and development stage of America’s push west. Because the BLM came into existence in 1946, and the Bundy family ranching has a 130 years connection to the land, predating BLM by half a century, Bundy figures he has preemptive right of use.

Up until 20 years ago the feisty rancher paid grazing fees to the state of Nevada which he claims owns the land and everything was hunky dory until the Center for Biodiversity decided the local tortoise’s preemptive rights to the 600,000 acre plot preceded Bundy and his bovines by millions of years going all way back to the geological period called the Upper Triassic. Never mind that for 130 years the cattle, the turtles, jackrabbits and grasshoppers had beaten their swords into plowshares and coexisted in peaceful green pastures, the Center for Biodiversity convinced the tortoise he was being discriminated against and as the saying goes, the natives began to grow restless.

The upshot of it all is that religionists of the environmental faith, swept inland by the progressive political tides and tactics of our great coastal cities, washed up on the shores of Nevada’s Virgin River along with other various flotsam and jetsam, took a tortoise census and advised the locals (turtles) their breeding practices t’weren’t nearly frenetic enough to compete with bovine culture, that the interlopers were hogging the feed, fouling the water and polluting the atmosphere with flatulence, were generally screwing them around denying their constitutional rights and should they petition the great god up in Washington D.C., the master would darn well do something to help regain their proper birthright and re-establish them as the area’s dominant species.

Something similar occurred 25 years ago when yet another “Center for Bio-Adversity,” the Sierra Club, became a de facto arm of the Democratic party and used the pen of Bubba Clinton to restrict or shut down vast areas of western lands to mining, ranching, and timbering industries much as has Obama with the coal industry and the Keystone pipeline today and with the same resulting loss of employment opportunity. With a long career in logging this writer lived through it, was astounded by its fallaciousness. The leverage for shutting down logging not only on federal lands but on private lands also, was the listing of the Northern spotted owl.

Barring objections from environmentalist, (or just about anybody who chooses to move in next to commercial timberlands and then objects to its harvest) it takes approximately two years after filing intent to harvest, for an environmental impact report to be approved by the state, even then that harvest cannot begin if it’s found that the area is home to the endangered owl. Ere the “voracious chain saws” showed up on site, BLM sent out “hooters” with owl calls perchance the critters call would come echoing back along the nighttime ridges and canyons, if so it did, the timbering operation was either suspended or greatly curtailed.

The Northern spotted owl was added to the endangered species list in 1990 with no allowance for impact reports previously approved; the following two years proved difficult for logging companies as the milling industry and contract loggers themselves cast around for bits and pieces of privately owned timberlands uninhabited by the owl and unobstructed by the state and fed’s restrictive rules and regulations. Whereas, large lumber companies like Sierra Pacific Industries headquartered at Anderson in the upper Sacramento Valley was bound to survive, not so with their many contract harvesters. With millions of dollars invested in equipment, a few months down in a seven to nine-month logging season would bankrupt most companies.

The salvation for those in my area of Northern California was the Fountain Fire at Round Mountain, Shasta County east of Redding in 1992 two years after the owls listing; the inferno decimated 60,000 acres of timberlands, most of it private. In order to salvage the burned timber ere it went to rot, every woodsman and his axe (to the consternation of environmentalists) was thrown into the harvest, winter, spring and summer, several woodworkers were injured and two lost their lives before the salvage was completed but the industry gained enough leeway to survive. (Today the privately owned lands within the burn have been turned into healthy tree plantations, while the federal and state part of it exists as an eyesore of brush and snags.)

No one can really give an historical number to the northern spotted owl with which to compare in order to better assess its health but it is said still in decline although the reason has yet to be determined; the owl has several winged predators with which it shares the forest including the great horned owl, red tail hawk and the common raven. Its more aggressive cousin, the barred owl with which it competes for habitat is a promiscuous rascal which seems intent on breeding its neighbor out of existence as a distinct species. Reduction of old growth forest which was claimed to be vital to the owls’ survival has been minimal since the listing, particularly on federal lands where logging is virtually non-existent, making suspect another self-serving environmentalist theory.

All this explains why my political affiliation changed 25 years ago and why perhaps others whose livelihood may come in conflict with the environmental lobby should consider changing also; there is never an end to the circle as it moves from place to place, never an end to the rocks one may lift that will have some exotic species hiding beneath them that needs protecting, never an end to picking on less politically profitable or influential industries from lumbering, to coal, to Keystone to a besieged rancher at Bunkerville, Nevada.

It seems no question that Bundy is in transgression of the law, but then laws generally are not created for those who have little political influence. As always, laws are created by the rich, the powerful the politically influential and for the comfort of the powerful and influential. Never mind that it may discomfort the less privileged in ways they can ill afford or that it may arbitrarily disenfranchise those who labor in fields that produce crops which special interest politics view as inconsequential. You may even be called a domestic terrorist should you peacefully resist those who have placed your livelihood under duress.

In spite of public sympathy this is a range war that Cliven Bunker will not win if for no other reason that there are more of “them” than there are of “us.” Even though the scene of armed federal agents facing off against a peaceful community brings back memories of Waco and Ruby Ridge, there is no will among the people to buck the trend toward militant tactics of an increasingly banana-like republic. It is sobering indeed to imagine “Federalies” arrayed in force against the common people, against the pioneering spirit of those from which they themselves have prospered. What happened to the western states’ timber industry, to Keystone, to the coal industry of Virginia, and to Cliven Bunker in Nevada reflects the direction the country has taken under a decade’s long “progressive” philosophy. From the pen of Bob Dylan, a verse from the song “Times they are a changing.”

Come gather ‘round people

Wherever you roam

And admit that the waters

Around you have grown

And accept it that soon

You’ll be drenched to the bone

If your time to you

Is worth saving

Then you better start swimmin’

Or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a changing.

In fact times have already changed significantly just within the past 30 years; a government most of us once thought “had our back” has become both self-serving and self sustaining, intrusive into our lives undermining our trust and our faith in its traditional institutions, our old values preempted by a society that is difficult to recognize against the traditions that birthed the nation and made it strong. Bundy and all who are like him in fact and in spirit are destined to ride off into the sunset as the old cowboy heroes of the silver screen. To paraphrase an old song, Whatever happened to Randolph Scott has happened to you and me.

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