No sooner had the Bears Ears National Monument been proclaimed than local Utah politicians launched a concerted effort to undo it. Kirsten Allen and her gang at Torrey House Press have gone to great lengths to help support the making of the Monument and may indeed have played a role in its creation by the President Obama and the Department of the Interior. They created and published Red Rock Testimony and took hundreds of copies to Washington D.C. They simultaneously came out with Edge of Morning, a book of all Native voices in support of the Bears Ears. These are very nice people, why would they promote an outcome that local people don’t want? Continue reading
Cowboy anarchist Cliven Bundy and Utah San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman remain free. I have been writing to Utah 2nd District Congressman Chris Stewart expressing my alarm at the situation. My point to Stewart is that if conservationist Tim DeChristopher goes straight to federal prison for violating BLM law, and is given a stiff two year sentence precisely because he is exercising his First Amendment right of free speech, then certainly these cowboys need some jail time for doing the same thing. Stewart, ever the right wing politician, doesn’t get it.
I grew up on a dairy farm. My wife’s family still ranches in Northern Utah and Southern Idaho. I understand the importance of obeying the law, including paying grazing fees. Notwithstanding this, I was shocked as the situation played out in Nevada to see the show of force by the BLM and the National Park Service agents. I had no idea that these agencies had special tactical teams that appear more like paramilitary groups than park rangers.
It is true that America loves the cowboy. I increasingly do not. The fact that Stewart likes to wear his cowboy hat does not impress me. His sentence on the importance of obeying the law is his only acknowledgement of the issue in a full one page letter. The rest is about the citizens not respecting the federal government because it can’t be trusted. He has his facts all wrong. The BLM does not have paramilitary force. That level of force that showed up at Bunkerville was the Las Vegas Sheriff Department SWAT team. Ironically, Stewart is pressing the point in his letter to me that law enforcement ought to be local. He is ignoring the fact that it was. And the law was still outgunned by the cowboy militia and had to back off to avoid a blood bath. Overwhelming force, Stewart?
Subsequently, on May 10, Utah’s San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman led a heavily armed vigilante gang on ATV’s into Recapture Canyon, a sacred Navajo site in San Juan County that the BLM has closed to motorized vehicles. In part Lyman chose the anniversary date to publicly object to white, Mormon, San Juan County citizens not being allowed to continue to rob Navajo graves unmolested by the law. Sheriffs from five rural Utah counties showed up to make sure the heavily armed ATV riders were able to perform federal trespass without interference. They need not have worried. The unarmed conservation community was in reasonable fear for their lives and prudently did not show up. And, I sadly point out to you Chris Stewart, neither did the BLM.
Stewart is worried about an undue show of force. By whom, Chris?
In the West we do not practice equal justice under the law. Around Utah, if you are white, Republican, Mormon, wear a cowboy hat and are heavily armed you can break the law with impunity. You can even have the local sheriff, on horse and with hat, make way for you. On the contrary, if you interrupt the BLM in the name of conservation, without a hat and without a weapon, you go straight to prison with a maximum sentence. Such is the case today.
Happily there is a petition going around by the more sober citizens at Alliance for a Better Utah to hold the trespassers accountable. I am gratified to see I am not the only one alarmed at the cowboy behavior going unanswered by the law.
The BLM has got its tit in a wringer. From an environmental standpoint the BLM is a classic captured agency run locally both by and for ranchers. The agency has long overlooked grazing permit infractions of all sorts. Often outside nongovernmental organizations have to sue to win enforcement of standing laws and regulations. The BLM’s action of enforcement has been so lax that when they do try to enforce a decades old egregious and blatant defiance of U.S. law and multiple court orders, like the unanswered defiance by Cliven Bundy, they are unable to do so. Which opens more than one door in a good news – bad news sort of way.
That bad news is that the government is inviting anarchy. If one guy, like Cliven Bundy with his delusions of grandeur, can defy the government by going loud with right wing media and inviting a bunch of gun toting friends to gather around, why can’t everyone start making up their own laws? Already Utah San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman is rallying a group to flout federal law and ride their ATV’s into a closed canyon next month. Presumably they will take notes from Bundy and bring their guns. Mike Noel, a Utah legislator, did the same in Paria Canyon in 2012 with no repercussions. Yet when environmental activist Tim DeChristopher practiced civil disobedience by waving a bid paddle at what turned out to be an energy auction held illegally by the BLM, he was promptly sentenced to two years in federal prison. Utah’s federal judge Dee Benson did not allow DeChristopher’s motives to be discussed in court, only whether or not he technically broke the law. “Equal Justice Under Law” is engraved on the front of the U.S. Supreme Court building. When special interest groups like livestock and energy producers or rural county commissioners on ATVs can crony up with the federal courts and agencies to manage legal outcomes, we are knocking on the door of fascism.
The good news for the BLM’s tit is that Cliven Bundy appears to be a lunatic to the vast majority of rational Americans. All the media attention on public land grazing abuse will shine some light on BLM practices and might encourage the agency to toe the line and regularly enforce existing regulations. This attention can open the door to a little public awareness to the otherwise boring issue of public land management, particularly the damage done by livestock grazing and the irony that this grazing would largely come to and end if it were not subsidized and/or if ranchers were permitted to sell and thereby retire their permits.
It will be up to non-governmental organizations and writers alike to go through the good news door. I’ll see what we can do at Torrey House Press with some appropriate Green Shorts.
I’ve been reading quite a bit about the history and current practice of grazing on public lands. My question has always been how so few people could have such huge political clout. The answer is complex and fascinating. Much of the answer revolves around the power of the cowboy myth in the mind of the American and particularly in the mind of the American congressperson. I think I will blog a bit about some current examples of both regulatory and political capture and about the harm that public land grazing does. Here’s a current example of where the reactionary Utah congress is working on a law to make it illegal to take a picture of a cow. (HB187) >>>more
In response to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune announcing that Utah State Engineer Kent Jones OK’d the use of Green River water to cool a proposed nuclear reactor, Ed Firmage Jr. posted a polished reply. Water management in Utah is an area much in need of watch dogging. Mike Noel makes a living by exercising a powerful conflict of interest in the government positions he holds. It’s how welfare ranching works and just like Bernard DeVoto called it 65 years ago: “Give me the money, now get out of here.” Berate the federal government while taking finagled federal hand outs. Not much has changed. Noel has a seat on the Utah State Legislature and is the executive director of the Kane County Water Conservancy District, both government jobs. Now he is concocting a boondoggle to sell Kane County water rights to a nuclear reactor which he will use his position as state legislator to support. Here’s Ed’s response:
Let me see if I got this right:
A former two-bit Viagra salesman, Aaron Tilton, who was GIVEN (not elected) to a term in the state senate and who promptly lost his first attempt to be ELECTED to office (even Utah voters have standards), teams up with former legislative buddy, welfare rancher, and general good old boy Mike Noel, who makes his living railing against federal subsidies (except his own), and they concoct a plan for a federally subsidized nuclear reactor (all nuclear reactors are federally subsidized) in the middle of the howling Utah desert with water from an oversubscribed and climate-threatened river–in other words, using water for speculative gain, a practice prohibited by Utah law–and this Rube Goldberg scheme is OKd by the only representative of the Utah public who will have a say in this decision, Utah’s water “engineer,” Kent Jones, who opines, in either ignorance or denial of Wall St., that building a nuclear power plant, and that in a desert, isn’t a speculative venture and a therefore illegal use of Utah water.
I guess I must be in Utah, for by comparison, the story of the golden plates sounds perfectly plausible.
Ed’s last sentence is regrettably uncivil, but his calling the crony good old boys on their crap is a civil service. Go Ed.
It seems to me the rabid right in American politics today have lost track of some of their guiding principles, some of the great virtues. Ted Williams writes in a recent blog, ” we need to grow our web of friends among those who are politically middle-of-the-road or even slightly to the right, and among those in small towns and the hinterlands. Too often we think the only field where we can gather new backers is the progressive/liberal one, but clubs such as Republicans for Environmental Protection, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and Trout Unlimited strongly show that there are more than a few folks caring about wild things who are not progressives, who may even be conservatives.” Ted thinks that Piety, Prudence, Posterity are principals that conservatives naturally honor, and if they applied them to how they live in place, they would find they should be, in fact and act, conservationists. . . . >>more
“Bipartisan analyses have repeatedly shown that the cost of environmental regulation is exponentially cheaper than the costs of toxic cleanup and medical care.” And yet the fearful shriek that environmental regulation “kills jobs” while the hamstrung EPA can’t even adequately test or develop standards for two-thirds of the pollutants detected in water. Enough already. . . . more>>