It has now been 90 days since the killing of LaVoy Finicum on a desolate Highway in Harney County, Oregon. I still see individuals from around the nation “celebrating” his death with such monikers as “the grass thief got what he deserved.” I, for the life of me, cannot understand the lack of respect for human life I am seeing in this country.
In fact, the rest of the patriots who have been involved in speaking up against the federal erosion of property rights are still being held without bail. Is this America?
The information coming out about the treatment of Ammon Bundy and the others is worthy of some time here, but instead I want to talk about why they are willing to risk arrest or even death for this cause.
First of all, we must understand the number of people who actually own property in the Unites States is ultra-low. We constantly shout that our property rights are being stripped from us and yet that is a completely foreign concept to those living in the cities who don’t own anything. In reality, you can’t blame them for what they don’t know.
Honestly at this point the federal public relations machine has been hard at work painting the picture that the rancher uses cattle to destroy the federal lands. Just for clarification of that statement, Open The Books recently published a report on The Self Promotion Department of Uncle Sam and it shows:
1. The federal government spent $4.34 billion on public relations in the last seven years.
2. U.S. government is ranked as the second largest public relations firm in the world based on the number of PR employees.
3. Since 2007, PR positions increased in the federal government by 15 percent—an addition of 402 positions—from 2,688 to 3,092. Total PR salary spending by year increased by 22.4 percent despite a long period of freeze and sequester in federal hiring.
So now that we know why the public is confused, we need to look at what they need know.
The ranchers of the federal lands talk about grazing “rights.” They actually own the grass without owning the dirt it grows in. It is most commonly referred to as a Split Estate. These rights were established under the Act of July 26, 1866, called The Mining Act, recognized and protected in every land law passed by Congress since that time, up to and including the1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 was specifically passed to protect and bring order to those pre-existing rights.
A federal lands rancher does not lease, rent or steal grass from the government. They quite simply own the grass and are expected to develop and maintain water for not only their livestock, but also the wildlife and any others who wish to use it.
No one explains this better than Angus McIntosh, former U.S. Forrest Service employee and currently an expert witness on the topic in legal proceedings.
“Grazing ‘permits’ are not property rights. However, once water rights, rights of way, forage rights and improvements were developed or appropriated, they became property rights. As real property, grazing allotments cannot be taken without just compensation and due process. 16 U.S. Code 1604—National Forest System land and resource management plans subjects itself to these established rights as evidenced in subparagraph (i): ‘Any revision in present or future permits, contracts and other instruments made pursuant to this section shall be subject to valid existing rights.’”
When you factor in that this legally binding information never seems to come from the PR machine of the federal government, combined with the misinformation currently being presented about cows destroying the planet, one cannot wonder why people who are not involved in the industry just don’t get it. Much less do they know that grazing animals actually improve the environment.
Studies have documented that lands where animals graze are 14 times more likely to house migratory birds. Lands grazed by livestock are less likely to burn at dangerous levels because flammable fuel has been reduced. Walk out into your pastures right now and look at what has happened around the cow pie from last year. That grass is far ahead because of the fertilizer’s benefits to the soil.
Most estimates that I am aware of indicate the current stocking rates on federal lands are about 15 percent of what they should be. That means two things for all owners of public lands: 85 percent of the grazing rights are not being honored by the government and the potential fire hazards are not being removed, thereby increasing the chances for massive wildfires. It should come as no surprise to learn that fires on these lands are at historic highs.
If indeed 1 plus 2 still equals 3, then it is not hard to figure out why families who have spent multiple generations caring for and tending to the land are upset that these resources are not being properly managed by the government. At the end of the day that is all anybody who understands natural resources really wants: to see those resources managed properly and, in doing so, produce 110 million protein meals annually for hungry people through proper grazing.
Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.LoosTales.com, or email Trent at firstname.lastname@example.org.