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Tina Casey headshot

Fallout From the Oregon Takeover Continues


The public is finally getting a glimpse of the mess left behind at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, after the end of a six-week occupation by Arizona businessman Ammon Bundy and his gang of armed thugs. Bundy and two dozen of his supporters are now behind bars along with his father, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who has finally been called to account for enlisting an armed gang of his own back in 2014, when federal agents tried to chase his cattle off the Gold Butte public lands in Nevada.

In the latest development, yesterday 14 additional people were arrested by the FBI and indicted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Nevada for felony crimes related to the Cliven Bundy episode, some of whom were also involved in the Malheur takeover. Say, what kind of businessmen are these Bundys, anyway?

Hammer falls on Bundy supporters

On top of the two dozen arrests directly connected to the Malheur takeover, law enforcement has finally caught up with Cliven Bundy and his gang, referred to by one observer as the "parasites of the purple sage" (most likely a reference to the vintage Zane Grey novel set in Utah, "Riders of the Purple Sage").

Here are some snippets from the press release announcing the Bundy-related indictments from the U.S. Attorney's office:

The federal grand jury in Nevada has charged 14 more defendants in connection with the armed assault against federal law enforcement officers that occurred in the Bunkerville, Nev. area on April 12, 2014, over the removal of Cliven Bundy’s cows from public lands...

...The newly-added defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and conspiracy to impede or injure a federal officer, and at least one count of using and carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, assault on a federal officer, threatening a federal law enforcement officer, obstruction of the due administration of justice, interference with interstate commerce by extortion, and interstate travel in aid of extortion. The indictment also alleges five counts of criminal forfeiture which upon conviction would require forfeiture of property derived from the proceeds of the crimes totaling at least $3 million, as well as the firearms and ammunition possessed and used on April 12, 2014.


The U.S. Attorney's Office reminds us that "the defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

Stay tuned for more, because in the press release U.S. Attorney Daniel G. Bogden also had this to say:

"This investigation began the day after the assault against federal law enforcement officers and continues to this day. We will continue to work to identify the assaulters and their role in the assault and the aftermath, in order to ensure that justice is served."

From heroes to thugs

Cliven and Ammon Bundy have presented themselves as the authentic grassroots voice of a movement to transfer federal land out of federal control, ostensibly to create more jobs and foster economic activity in rural areas.

However, TriplePundit has been examining the Bundy's through a corporate social responsibility perspective -- after all, they are both business owners who claim to be acting on behalf of the community -- and from that angle their actions make no sense.

In particular, after Ammon Bundy and his thugs blundered into the Malheur refuge, it became abundantly clear that he lacked support from any local stakeholder group, even though he purported to act in the interests of local ranchers, miners and loggers.

Ammon also ignored the interests of the local Paiute tribe and enabled his supporters to run roughshod over sensitive archaeological areas in the refuge, where they built a new gravel road, enlarged a parking lot, and dug trenches for refuse and human feces during the six-week standoff.

Cliven Bundy's actions were different: He did not take over a federal facility, but he also displayed a similar pattern of ignoring local interests and professional responsibilities. For two decades, Cliven refused to pay the same fees that other ranchers pay for grazing on federal land, letting his cattle run wild on Gold Butte, which is listed among the "areas of critical environmental concern" in Nevada. Now that Cliven is behind bars, the destructive legacy of his actions are coming to light.

Fox News, which is hardly a champion of federal bureaucracy, reported on the situation earlier this week under the headline, "Bundy's million-dollar herd of ornery cattle giving feds a meaty problem:"

"... His 1,000 head of cattle are still roaming federal lands due, in part, to his absence and also to what officials call his 'unconventional, if not bizarre' ranching methods.

"'Rather than manage and control his cattle, he lets them run wild on the public lands with little, if any, human interaction until such time when he traps them and hauls them off to be sold or slaughtered,' said court documents filed by federal prosecutors last month. 'He does not vaccinate or treat his cattle for disease; does not employ cowboys to control and herd them; does not manage or control breeding; has no knowledge of where all the cattle are located at any given time; rarely brands them.'"

Fox also noted that the untended cattle have been trampling Pauite artifacts at Gold Butte in addition to damaging range lands through overgrazing.

A long article in ClimateWire provides many more details on the Gold Butte situation, noting that an atmosphere of intimidation after Cliven's 2014 action has continued to hang over the area, enabling vandalism and preventing conservation programs from being carried out:

"Agency trespass investigations show that cattle have 'trampled' and 'denuded' sensitive soils, increasing the risk of erosion and invasive and noxious weed infestations. Cows have also damaged Native American petroglyphs by 'bedding down and rubbing against these irreplaceable archaeological resources ...'

"Restoration efforts have been stymied.

"BLM forfeited a $400,000 matching grant from the Walton Family Foundation for a $1 million restoration project in 2013 and 2014 that would have benefited the endangered southwest willow flycatcher. The presence of cattle thwarted the project ..."

As reported by ClimateWire, it's no surprise that Cliven Bundy is not a member of the Nevada Cattlemen's Association, though in a statement issued shortly after the 2014 episode, the organization expressed sympathy with Cliven's "dilemma" over federal land management.

On the other hand, in the same statement the Cattlemen's Association reiterated its support for the emerging collaborative land management model and distanced itself from the criminal acts of Cliven and his supporters.

The Oregon Cattlemen's Association has also issued public statements regarding the Malheur takeover that echoed the sentiments of its Nevada counterpart. In one such missive after the last holdouts at Malheur were arrested, Executive Director Jerome Rosa made this observation:

"... the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association has 'a positive history working with government agencies on both a state and federal level. These trusted relationships are what will allow positive and productive change to occur.'”

The ALEC angle

So, how to make sense of the Bundy's actions? From the beginning, TriplePundit has been among those noting the close connection between the Bundys and the powerful business lobbying group ALEC, which has made the privatization of federal land a legislative priority.

As a Koch-backed organization, ALEC's priorities directly serve the mining, ranching and logging interests of the family business, Koch Industries. Koch Industries is better known for its fossil fuel activities, but the company is also interested in uranium mining, it has dabbled in ranching, and it acquired U.S. forestry giant Georgia-Pacific in 2015.

The Georgia-Pacific acquisition highlights something else about the Malheur takover that doesn't make sense outside of the ALEC connection. The Malheur refuge has been cited as a national model for cooperation between the federal Bureau of Land Management, conservationists, and local ranchers and other business interests, so it would seem to be the least compelling choice to make a stand against government intervention. However, take into consideration the enormous reach of Koch Industries in the Oregon forestry sector through Georgia-Pacific, and you can see why the success of the cooperative model is not in the best interests of the family business.

We'll close with a shoutout to the Steens Mountain Brewery, another family-owned business. Located in the town of Burns near the Malheur refuge, the tiny "nanobrewery" was just getting under way when the presence of Ammon Bundy's armed thugs cut its operations down to a fraction.

Steens Mountain owner Rick Roy is also an employee of the Bureau of Land Management. As one of the many local residents who make a living on the government payroll, Roy's interests were pretty low on the Bundy family priority list, and you can read all about Roy's thoughts on the Bundy "idiot parade" in the Portland Mercury.

Meanwhile, keep an eye out for Roy's ambitious plans to expand his brewery (and create new jobs), along with a new brew commemorating true local stakeholders, called Harney County Strong American IPA, along with a new hopless LEO concoction, so named in appreciation for the law enforcement officers who removed Ammon Bundy and his out-of-state thugs from the Malheur refuge.

You can also check out the Go Home campaign, launched by two Oregon brothers opposed to the Malheur takeover, which has been raising funds for the Malheur refuge, the local Paiute tribe, gun control advocacy and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.

Image: via U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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