Boise forum draws Utah ranchers upset with feds


Boise • The allotments Western ranchers use are not really public land, but rather grazing reserves to which ranchers hold a “property right” that the federal government has no authority to infringe.

Although some experts dispute such claims, that was the lesson taught Saturday at a property rights forum in Idaho organized by Utah activists sympathetic to the militants who have occupied an Oregon wildlife refuge for most of January.

“You own the forage. There’s even cases where they said ranchers are entitled to compensation for the timber. This isn’t something I made up. Everything in my research is based exactly on what the laws say,” keynote speaker Angus McIntosh told about 60 people gathered at the Boise Centre in the heart of Idaho’s capital city.

McIntosh is an adjunct professor of agriculture at Texas A&M University, where he taught an online course last year.

The Boise event, titled Storm Over Rangelands and organized by the Ogden-based National Federal Lands Conference, is a follow-up to a gathering last week in Cedar City, where several Utah ranchersagreed to disavow their contracts with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. The events address “a long trail of abuses” directed at productive land users by these agencies, according to organizer Todd Macfarlane, a Kanosh lawyer active in land-use controversies.

Supporters of Western conservation groups staged a counterprotest on the steps of the Idaho Capitol and then marched through downtown to the conference venue. About 75 protesters held signs and chanted “Keep public lands in public hands,” and later sang “This Land Is Your Land,” as a conference attendee entered their circle and heckled.

“We need to push back against these efforts to encourage people to break the law,” said Katie Fite of Wildlands Defense, an Idaho-based conservation group. Ranchers’ “permits don’t have many controls, but what they do have must be followed. You can triple the number of cows if you don’t think there are controls. You harm the land and the public good. It is the epitome of greed and selfishness.”

The National Federal Lands Conference forums aim to provide “tools” that would enable ranchers to assert their rights in the face of federal obstruction to the lands’ resources, according to Macfarlane. One tool is billed as a “notice of consent of withdrawal,” a pledge ranchers are being asked to send the federal government renouncing the contracts governing their use of the land.

Some of the ranchers at Saturday’s meeting seemed hesitant to take that step, which could expose them to legal headaches and possible eviction from their allotments.

Harney County rancher Charmaign Edwards agrees her family owns the grass on their massive BLM allotment and they can be trusted to manage the resource sustainably without federal interference.

“It’s your livelihood. You have to take care of it,” said Edwards, whose family acquired the ranch near Fields, Ore., in 1976. They used to run 650 head on the Pebble Lone Mountain allotment, but the BLM cut stocking levels by 14 percent in the 1980s and they have never been restored.

She and her husband, Nolan, do not oppose paying grazing fees, but they prefer being regulated by state and local authorities, rather than the feds, she said.

“They don’t want us there. Their objective is to get us off the land. The public has to understand that the federal government is not their friend and ranchers are not their enemy. If we are off there, they are off there, too,” Edwards said.

Before his Tuesday arrest, Oregon standoff leader Ammon Bundy had planned to speak at the Idaho forum. Speakers who made the trip included Nevada rancher Cliff Gardner and rancher Tim Smith, who heads the Harney County Committee of Safety, dedicated to restoring resource development in the county where the Malheur National Wildlife occupation unfolded.

Gardner said federal agencies routinely ignore information he has brought them. In the meantime, officials gave deference to conservation groups’ data that exaggerated grazing impacts, and ranchers had no “due process” to challenge it.

“We ought to be screaming from the rooftops. We can’t live with this federal jurisdiction. Not only is there no way to get justice in federal courts, but they are setting precedents that are leaking down to lower courts,” Gardner said. “They are spreading disinformation with our money. We are too busy working to counter their disinformation.”

Headliner McIntosh worked for the Forest Service and other federal agencies for 16 years. He quit federal employment in 1998 after becoming sick of agencies’ hypocritical land management practices that violate ranchers’ rights, according to event organizer Jon Pratt.

“It’s not grazing privileges. It’s rights. He is showing these are preemptive rights. You can’t take away a right. By policy, what BLM and the Forest Service have done in last 40 years has gone against the law. If anyone has broken contracts it’s the BLM and Forest Service,” said Pratt, a Millard County resident involved with the livestock industry.

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Burns OR: Robert ‘LaVoy’ Finicum killed, A Bundy Wounded

Apparently they were shot for disobeying officers and not dropping weapons. There are no reports of anyone shooting at officers or pointing weapons at officers.

BURNS – Oregon standoff spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was killed and other leaders of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation were arrested Tuesday after the FBI and state police stopped vehicles about 20 miles north of Burns.

Authorities did not release the name of the person who died at the highway stop, but Finicum’s daughter confirmed it was Finicum, 55, of Cane Beds, Arizona, one of the cowboy-hat wearing faces of the takeover.

“My dad was such a good good man, through and through,” said Arianna Finicum Brown, 26, one of Finicum’s 11 children. “He would never ever want to hurt somebody, but he does believe in defending freedom and he knew the risks involved.”

Ryan Bundy, 43, of Bunkerville, Nev., suffered a minor gunshot wound in the confrontation about 4:30 p.m. along U.S. 395. He was treated and released from a local hospital and was in FBI custody, authorities said.

Also arrested during the stop were his brother, Ammon Bundy, 40, of Emmett, Idaho, Ryan W. Payne, 32, of Anaconda, Mont., Brian Cavalier, 44, of Bunkerville, Nevada, and Shawna J. Cox, 59, of Kanab, Utah. They were charged with conspiracy to impede federal officers, a felony.

Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore said that Ammon Bundy called his wife, Lisa Bundy, from the back of a police car on Tuesday night.

Fiore, a vocal supporter of the Bundy family, said that Ammon Bundy told his wife that Finicum was cooperating with police when he was shot.

But sources told The Oregonian/OregonLive that Finicum and Ryan Bundy disobeyed orders to surrender and resisted arrest. No other details were available.

Finicum on Monday said an interview that “the tenor has changed” between the occupiers and federal authorities.

Robert “LaVoy” Finicum’s last interview with The Oregonian on the day before his death”They’re doing all the things that shows that they want to take some kinetic action against us,” Robert “LaVoy” Finicum says of federal agents. These were some of Finicum’s last words to The Oregonian/OregonLive on the day before his death.

“They’re doing all the things that shows that they want to take some kinetic action against us,” he said.

At the refuge Tuesday evening, occupier Jason Patrick reported no unusual activity. “It’s pretty quiet here,” Patrick said. He said no one was leaving as of 6 p.m.

Hours later, Patrick said the refuge remained quiet but “we’re all standing here ready to defend our peaceful resolution.” He wouldn’t elaborate.

In the meantime, Operation Mutual Defense, a network of militias and patriot sympathizers, issued a call on its website for help at the refuge. The post was written by Gary Hunt, a board member from California who has expressed support for Timothy McVeigh, who bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City and had ties to the patriot movement.

“You have an obligation to proceed to the Harney County Resource Center (the wildlife refuge) immediately,” Hunt wrote. “If you fail to arrive, you will demonstrate by your own actions that your previous statements to defend life, liberty, and property were false.”

In Burns, Oregon State Police also arrested Joseph D. O’Shaughnessy, 45, Cottonwood, Arizona, known in militia circles as “Captain,” and Pete Santilli, 50, of Cincinnati, an independent broadcaster known for his aggressive manner and live streaming refuge events. They face conspiracy charges of impeding federal officers.

Jon Ritzheimer, 32, a key militant leader, surrendered to police in Arizona on the conspiracy charge. He gained national fame for complaining on a video about the delivery of sex toys to the refuge in response to the occupiers’ plea for supplies.

Pete Santilli was arrested while live-streaming reports of Ammon Bundy’s arrest on YouTube.

Gov. Kate Brown called for calm late Tuesday night.
“The situation in Harney County continues to be the subject of a federal investigation that is in progress,” she said in a statement. “My highest priority is the safety of all Oregonians and their communities. I ask for patience as officials continue pursuit of a swift and peaceful resolution.”  

Little detail was available about the dramatic finish to the free-roaming ways  of the militant leaders. State police said troopers were involved in the shooting and that one person died, another suffered non-life-threatening injuries and no police were hurt.

The militants seized the wildlife refuge on Jan. 2, insisting they wouldn’t leave until their demands were met, including the freeing of two Harney County ranchers jailed on federal arson charges.

One militant on Tuesday afternoon posted a video of Ammon Bundy talking earlier in the day with an FBI negotiator identified only as “Chris.” The two have been negotiating since last week, with Bundy dictating the circumstances under which he would talk and what the group wanted.  

The leaders were on the highway bound for John Day, where they were scheduled to participate in an evening community meeting set up by local residents. A crowd of several hundred had gathered at the John Day Senior Center and were subsequently told the the “guest speakers” would not be appearing.

The highway was blocked for a 40-mile stretch between Burns and John Day. Police were stationed near Seneca, a small city of 200 south of John Day, with long guns. They said they didn’t know how long the roadblock would be place. Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer was there.

Palmer two weeks ago had met with Payne and Ritzheimer. He later publicly declared that Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven, should be freed from federal prison to help end the standoff. Palmer also has recommended that the FBI leave the Harney County scene and turn the matter to local police.

The armed militants took over the vacant headquarters compound at the refuge. They have been using refuge buildings for meetings and lodging, posting armed security guards.

The occupiers have been moving without police interference between the refuge and Burns, even attending a county-sponsored community meeting at the Burns High School a week ago. Police estimated at least 50 militants scattered through the crowd of about 400 people.

The dramatic event came days after local and state officials had publicly complained about the apparent inaction by federal law enforcement. The governor had complained directly to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey as well as the White House. On Monday, Harney County Judge Steve Grasty, who chairs the county commission, also publicly urged police to resolve the occupation.

Payne and Bundy have been in and out of Harney County since November, aroused by the sentencing of the Hammonds. In October, they were ordered back to federal prison to finish five-year terms for deliberating starting fires that burned federal land in 2001 and 2006. Bundy and his followers had demanded that Harney County Sheriff David Ward protect the ranchers from having to surrender, a demand Ward rejected.

Payne and other militia met local residents in an informal meeting on New Year’s Day in Burns, vowing they had peaceful intentions. The next day, about 300 people – a mix of militia and local residents – paraded in protest through downtown Burns, stopping at the sheriff’s office and then stopping at the home of Dwight Hammond and his wife Susan.

That afternoon, a splinter group of militants drove out to the refuge, left vacant after federal authorities warned employees to stay away over safety concerns. Later, Payne confirmed in interviews with The Oregonian/OregonLive that the group had long planned to seize the refuge.

Besides demanding freedom for the Hammonds, the Bundy group wanted the refuge turned over to prior private owners and to the county. They insist that the federal government has no constitutional authority to control land in Harney County, a county that measures 10,000 square miles. The federal government controls 76 percent. The Bundy group also has encouraged ranchers to renounced their federal grazing permits, showcasing a New Mexico rancher Saturday at the refuge who did just that. 

— Laura Gunderson, Carli Brosseau, Denis Theriault, Luke Hammill, Elliot Njus, Anna Marum, and Ian Kullgren of The Oregonian contributed to this post.

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