Bundy’s Refuge Takeover is Keeping Americans from our Public Lands

By Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

Top of Steens Mountain Cooperative Management Area, near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Mia Sheppard.

Ammon Bundy, the self-proclaimed head of the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, claims that he’s justified in large part because the refuge is rightfully owned by the people and that the group plans to assist ranchers, loggers, hunters, and campers who want to use the land.

Not only is this armed takeover foolish and illegal, the occupation is impeding and trampling on the rights of American hunters and other outdoorspeople, whose ancestors helped to establish this refuge and many like it across the United States. In fact, Malheur was created by Theodore Roosevelt after he was encouraged by fellow hunters to do something about the precarious decline in waterfowl populations brought on by poor wildlife management and the destruction of habitat.

Sportsmen again played a significant role in the development of wildlife refuges in the 1930s, when they called on Congress to pass the Duck Stamp Act to provide revenue for the preservation and maintenance of waterfowl habitat. Since that time, a full 98 percent of the purchase price of a duck stamp has gone directly toward improving wetland habitat and purchasing conservation easements that contributed to the growth of the National Wildlife Refuge System — a system that Bundy is using as an example of excessive land ownership by the federal government.

So, it is sportsmen and women who, through their participation in waterfowl hunting, have created and helped maintain refuges like Malheur. Bundy claims his takeover is designed to return these lands to the American people, but the American people already own these lands, especially the hunters who have helped pay for their purchase and management.

The Malheur website reports that the refuge is closed until further notice, meaning hunters, anglers, and American families — the true owners of these refuges — are being denied our rights because of Bundy and his friends.

Equally troubling is the fact that fringe radicals such as these are being kowtowed to by state and federal politicians. A case in point: Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have downplayed the illegal activities of Ammon Bundy’s father, Cliven Bundy, as symptomatic of poor federal land management in the West, essentially encouraging the escalation we now see from the younger Bundy and his posse.

But what about the 13.7 million hunters in the United States, including roughly 240,000 in Oregon? Why aren’t politicians standing in front of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge calling for better conservation of federal land holdings — our lands — so that we can continue to pursue our great American traditions?

As I write this, the Malheur website reports that the refuge is closed until further notice, meaning hunters, anglers, and American families — the true owners of these refuges — are being denied our rights because of Bundy and his friends. This is an affront to all Americans from one fringe group, and our lawmakers shouldn’t stand for Bundy’s illegal and self-centered activities, especially as he attempts to wrap himself in the flag and make painfully misdirected claims to justify his actions.

I’d encourage anyone who truly wants to work toward thoughtful, effective land-management solutions for public lands — every American’s birthright — to sign the petition at sportsmensaccess.org.

Inspired by the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, the TRCP is a coalition of organizations and grassroots partners working together to preserve the traditions of hunting and fishing. Ensuring sportsmen’s access to quality fish and wildlife habitat safeguards the $646-billion contribution that sportsmen and -women make to the American economy. Visit trcp.org to learn more.

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