As you have probably heard by now, a band of gun-toting, angry cowboys overtook a federal wildlife refuge center in Oregon, January 1, 2016, to protest what they describe as a “tyrannical” control of public land. Yes, you read that correctly, an armed militia of anti-government cattle ranchers forcefully occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, threatening deadly force, after two cattle ranchers were ordered to serve additional time in prison for burning the protected land back in 2001 and 2006. While the ambush took place after a rally for the two ranchers, the move is less about the sentences of these individuals than the terrorists’ protesters’ quest to make a profit off of as much public land as possible through their cattle grazing businesses.

Cattle Are Taking Over America

Despite the ranchers’ anger over this situation, the federal government has been extremely generous to ranchers when it comes to enforcing public land protections. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, one-fourth of all privately held land in the country, equivalent to 613 million acres, is devoted to grazing cattle. In addition, an estimated 279 million acres of public lands across 11 western states has also been rented to graze cattle. It’s pretty amazing that the ranchers feel this level of violence protest is necessary when, in fact, cattle grazing takes up a solid 42 percent of federally “protected” land! Much of this is because ranchers have been able to very cheaply lease and purchase public land with permits granted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service, despite being for-profit operations that are subsidized by taxpayers.

On top of the feds practically giving away public land to ranchers, they have actually assisted the ranchers in killing off any wildlife that actually belongs on the land. One of the ways they do this is through regular roundups of wild horses, in which these beautiful stallions are forced together and sold off to ranchers for $125 a pop. Most of the horses end up at auction where they can be purchased for any use the buyer the wishes including selling them off to the horse meat industry. These absurd actions by an agency that is supposed to protect wildlife has resulted in the near extinction of wild horses in the U.S. In addition to rounding up off nearly all of our wild horses, the Federal Wildlife Service kills 1.5 million wild animals per year, including wolves and coyotes, all to “make life safe for livestock and game species.”  This is likely, in part, happening because the government actually profits from leasing lands to cattle producers and charging for hunting permits. With such shoddy laws that barely restrict ranching at all, it’s absurd that anyone would go to these lengths for the ownership of one wildlife preserve.

Wild horses are nearly extinct due to government roundups that make room for cattle grazing. Now ranchers want to take even more public land.


Cattle Ranching is Destroying Our Open Land

While the actions to make room for cattle grazing operations are devastating, cattle grazing has a host of destructive effects. Cattle operations often cause water pollution due to waste containing hormones, antibiotics, heavy metals, ammonia, and pathogens. Cattle also cause erosion of water systems. Without water, species diversity takes a serious drive and impacts stream habitats. In large numbers, they exhaust grazing areas. In addition to the destruction of the land, it takes an enormous amount of water to produce beef. On average, every pound of beef produced takes 1,700 gallons of water. Considering that Southeast Oregon is experiencing its  fourth straight year of drought, more cattle grazing is really the last thing the environment needs.

Who Does the Land Belong to Anyway?

The ranchers argue that they use public land for their livelihoods, but it still doesn’t make it their property to use and abuse. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is home to deer, antelope, elk, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, and many species of birds, reptiles and fish. The land is their home – not the ranchers’ or the cows’. In fact, if there is any group of people who could possibly claim ownership own this particular piece of land, it’s the Paiute natives, who have lived on the land for an estimated 1,000 years. The area where the standoff is currently taking place is a Paiute Reservation of 750 acres (was previously 1.5 million acres before the U.S. government severely shrunk their federal land trust). Not only have the Paiute people seen their land cut by more than 99 percent, but now they have a bunch of armed wild west cowboys occupying it. With this consideration, any claims by the ranchers that keeping the land protected is so-called “tyranny” is just ridiculous.

Rather than giving the ranchers any more leeway when it comes to encroaching on protected land, we think the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to finally put its foot down and protect the individuals they are supposed to – wildlife, not the band of ranchers invading from the Wild West.

Want to do something to help protect wildlife? Information is power. Share this article and demand that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protect the land and habitats it has been entrusted to do.

Image source: Business Insider