Thank you for providing so many informative articles on this perplexing Bundy affair. Leesa Zalesky and others reporters have helped shed light. I was particularly taken by John Moore’s thoughtful insights published in last week’s Western Ag Reporter. He brings up the link to our own locally grown rebel group – the Freemen. Both the Freemen and the Bundyites have taken legitimate complaints to their ultimate illogical conclusions. I can’t quite wrap my mind around the TV spots of someone (possibly Cliven Bundy himself) galloping around with an American flag and yet Bundy declares that he does not recognize the federal government of the United States.
As Mr. Moore reminds us, the roots of the grievances held by some of the adherents of the Freeman cult had to do with the agricultural crisis of the early 1980’s. I remember that time well as I had not been in the ranching business very long when cattle and grain prices collapsed. From what I was later able to discover, that ag crisis was mostly artificial, caused by bankers and a monetary policy adverse to the export of American agricultural products. I have yet to hear of any banker who apologized for giving bad advice or any economist admitting to malpractice. Certainly in hindsight the farmers and ranchers who got underwater should not have signed the high interest rate mortgages in the first place. We are told that we are supposed to be responsible for our own bad decisions. But the bankers, economists, and government policy makers should hold some measure of responsibility for the misery they caused. Maybe in the afterlife they will pay for their complicity.
If the reporting is accurate, the roots of Mr. Bundy’s war began when his BLM grazing allotment was summarily cut to accommodate desert tortoises. Coincidentally, during the same period of time, the AUM’s of the Grazing Association to which I belong were reduced to increase elk numbers in the Charles M Russell Wildlife Refuge (CMR). Needless to say, we members of the Grazing Association were not happy. It had been our understanding that when the CMR was first created that the grazing rights would not be affected. I guess our Native American neighbors can tell us all about government promises.
So Cliven Bundy is not the only grass based livestock producer who has lost valuable property due to changes in what the Federal Government (I might add in response to American public opinion) sees as the priorities in the management of the property it owns. The issue is somewhat different but I can also mention the tens of thousands of dollars I have spent feeding sheep to coyotes. This came about because the Nixon Administration decided that poisoning coyotes was somehow inhumane. I bring Richard Nixon into this argument in order to point out to everyone that our troubles are complicated and bi-partisan.
It makes no sense to address complex issues with simplistic ideologies. This is why our efforts to affect public opinion in our favor has been so ineffective. A neighbor recently told me of his encounter with a young man in Yellowstone Park who was telling a group of tourists how misguided ranchers would not allow buffalo to roam free. In this young man’s opinion it was because we ranchers were afraid that the buffalo would cause a few abortions in our cows and as such it was just ignorant greed. My neighbor informed him in no uncertain terms that no one cares if our cows abort except us. After all ranchers have to deal with all kinds of abortive diseases, and would survive Brucellosis too. The reason Brucellosis is a public concern and should be this young man’s concern too, is that when humans get Undulant Fever it can be a lifelong problem. My friend said it was amazing how the wind went out that young man’s sail. The point is that for all of the time spent and print used arguing about buffalo, that simple message has not been adequately imparted or registered by the public.
Why is that? A good part of the reason is that we farmers and ranchers continually talk at cross purposes, counter acting and undermining each other’s positions. I remember a while back when a guy named David Stockman, who at the time was Ronald Reagan’s economic advisor, publicly laughed at how easy it was to manipulate farmers and ranchers in the Farm Bill debate. It is clear that in this Bundy affair we are also being grossly manipulated. When it the BLM, Forest Service, or Wildlife Service that is the perceived transgressor, big shots are all over TV pounding the “property rights” drum really loud. Yet when it is a corporation that is condemning property for their shareholder’s private gain, those same drummers seem to lose the beat. How much support and solidarity is being given to the ranchers and farmers on the Tongue River who risk having their property condemned for a railroad to haul coal that no one wants? Or the Keystone Pipe Line, where the only reason a foreign corporation wants to pump crude oil to refineries in Texas instead of building a refinery in Canada, is to play off the US market for gas and diesel against the world market. We are being manipulated to protect our right to pay more to fill up our outfits, and –“damn those environmentalists for trying to give us cheaper fuel!”
Until we get more sophisticated and united about how we view and address the issues pulling agriculture apart we will continue to be on the losing end of that tug of war. It is all connected – unaffordable credit, commodity futures manipulation, monopolized markets, bad trade treaties, property condemnation, coyotes, wolves, buffalo, wild horses, tortoises, and sage hens. I don’t think that Cliven Bundy is a bad guy. If I ever have the chance I will buy him a beer. But he, like the Freemen before him, let himself to be characterized as a buffoon – a bigoted buffoon at that – not the best spokesman for family farmers and ranchers. We are the interface between the business of raising food and the natural environment from which it comes. You would think that our knowledge, expertise, and observations should count for something. It doesn’t seem to and, at least in my opinion, this is our own damn fault.
Grass Range, Montana