Letters to the Editor

Oregon Occupation Puts Arizona Public Land-Grab Mania in Focus (Letter to the Editor)

The movement demanding the U.S. Federal government "return" all public lands to state ownership may not be anything new in Arizona, but last month's occupation of a federal building in Oregon has put the issue front and center in the public conscious.

The occupation, led by Arizona's own Ammon Bundy, gave the movement a new face and new vigor, and social media allowed people to watch it unfold in real time. Yet even though Bundy and other rebellion leaders have been arrested, some worry about the ongoing strength of the movement.

In a letter to New Times, Jarrett Babincsak, Southwest regional coordinator for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, explains why he believes turning over all federally owned lands to the state is a terrible idea:

To the editor:

Two primary figures in the recent armed occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon drove over from Arizona: Ammon Bundy, car fleet manager from Phoenix, and recently deceased LaVoy Finicum, Mormon rancher and father of 11 from Colorado City, wanted one thing, to steal public land that belongs to you and me.

They shouted “America” and “liberty” and “federal government” and carried around the stars and stripes, and many in our meme and sound bite consuming society took the bait.

You might say, “These are hard-working, blue-collar Americans standing up to the big, bad, incompetent federal government, right?” That might be what you’re hearing in your Facebook echo chamber, but nope, it is not the case at all, folks.

These wingbats are felons and would-be thieves, and if they weren’t white males I’m thinking that they would have been shown to their prison cells in a more expedited manner.

They had a sweetheart deal going with us too but wanted more. They wanted the general public to subsidize their private business by letting them graze for free and if we didn’t, then screw us — they’ll just take the land by force.

The lease rates private interests pay to graze cattle on public land managed by federal agencies is a modicum of what they’d have to pay a private owner to graze on similar land. This isn’t just the case in Oregon either; it’s the same all over the western United States.

This occupation was an act of greed and entitlement, plain and simple.

“Federal” has become a dirty word, especially here in Arizona. Our state is a hot bed of anti-federal government sentiment and would very likely be a coddling, cozy place for the “Bundy Bozos” to set up shop next. You’ve either already heard, or will soon, ideas like “giving federal land back to the state,” “Arizona can manage it better than the feds., and “if the states own it your accesses won’t change”.

It’s all a bunch of hooey.

Proponents of privatizing public lands see the current political climate as an opening and they’re trying to run through it like a running back who smells the goal line.

Last April, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2658, which established a committee to study the feasibility of a public lands transfer. The committee isn’t studying the feasibility. They are putting together a propaganda campaign and strategizing how to get a land transfer bill passed. 
Here are some facts.
  1. The states never owned these lands. Each state, at statehood, was given parcels of land by the federal government. The states never owned the land within their boundaries. The remainder of land is held in the public trust and managed by federal agencies. It belongs to all of us.
  2. State trust land exists for one reason, to create the highest economic benefit for the public school system. Public lands are managed by federal agencies for multi-use public recreation and benefit. 
  3. State Trust Land is NOT public land. The rules are different. Camping, hunting, mountain biking, target shooting – public activities allowed on public lands are either off limits or severely restricted on State Trust Land. Sale of public lands is also restricted. State Trust Land can be liquidated by the state to “benefit the public school system” or more likely to continue the pocket lining of state politicians. 
  4. States cannot afford to manage these lands. The cost of fire suppression alone would bankrupt State Trust Land departments. Again, the pro-land sale sect understands this math and intends to use it later as rationale for the eventual sale and privatization of these lands.
  5. Pro-public land sale politicians and citizens have no expectation of these lands remaining open to the general public. Well, unless they are barren of resources and devoid of benefit to private business. If feasible, they will be leased, mined, or sold. Gates locked and access to me and you lost forever. 
This movement is not American. It’s a greed driven attempt by a few to steal from the many.

Please do not make the mistake of marginalizing it. This is an organized, well-funded, and on-going attempt to fleece the American public.

Groups like the Bundy-led occupants are attached to strings controlled by wealthy, entitled businessmen and politicians. Puppet masters who could care less about ranchers or the blue collar Americans they purport to represent dangle them out in front of cameras as a diversion.

Pseudo-foundations like the American’s Land Council, led by CEO and elected Utah House Representative Ken Ivory receive “donations” from state and local governments to work on public land transfer legislation. These checks are written with our tax dollars.

Connect those dots.

Your tax dollars are being funneled to an organization that’s attempting to steal your land.

I will not stand by while my children’s birthright and legacy of public lands is sold off to benefit the greedy and entitled. This is not the America I want to leave for my daughters and their kids. How about you?

Jarrett Babincsak
New River, Arizona
Southwest Regional Coordinator for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser