The standoff continues on at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. Even days after the arrest and the death of one, there are a few hanging on occupying the refuge. They are on your land, that’s right, the public’s land. More than 40 percent of land in the western 11 states is public land set aside in refuges, national and state parks, and federal land. Agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are tasked with the convoluted project of managing the land for the general public. The task requires sorting out the needs of cultural land marks, wildlife species, economic interests, public recreation and more.
The Malheur occupation has affected many of these interests on the land. The refuge is a destination for birdwatchers around the world, traveling in to view rare species in the dense Pacific flyway (bird migration route). On site, scientists are not able to conduct research and manage the refuge. As Scientific American and High Country News reported, Linda Beck, a fish biologist at Malheur, has been working on removing exotic carp that have taken over the water systems, displacing native fish. The militia occupation came at a critical time and could lead to the loss of a fishing contract to eradicate the invasive carp.
Public lands are meant for everyone to enjoy, yet the public is often unaware of decisions being made about them. Did you know 258 acres of nearby Lewisville Lake (public land), is being put up for auction to the highest bidder by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for oil and gas leases? The land is being auctioned off to be fracked, right under our nose. It’s fairly standard that government agencies lease out public land — most commonly for cattle grazing, but can also be for mining, drilling and logging. Should you have a right to say what is done or not done on public lands?
Which brings me back to the Malheur occupation for a minute. The leader of the militia, Ammon Bundy, has been upset with the federal government for years based on his father grazing specific parts of public land (in Nevada) without a lease. When their lease was not renewed based on new scientific information, the Bundy family refused to stop grazing, claiming their ancestry was on the land long before the government. They had their private property (cattle) on public land illegally.
Grazing (and mining, logging and drilling) on our public lands comes with consequences. Overgrazing destroys native plants, which damages soil and increases erosion. Cattle waste contaminates our water quality. The federal government lease fees are standardized across the nation and cheaper than the private sector. The federal government subsidies on cattle grazing are why a cheeseburger costs less than healthier food, and why our public lands are being overgrazed.
What about Lewisville Lake? There are already areas surrounding the lake leased out to private companies for oil and natural gas extraction. This new acreage of land is part of more than 34,000 acres in Texas being auctioned off in April 2016 by the BLM. Other public lands include Somerville Lake and thousands of acreage in the Davy Crockett National Forest. Many of these areas have major cultural and endangered species concerns.
Rita Bevings, Clean Water Fund’s North Texas outreach coordinator and Dallas Sierra Club member, is worried about the potential environmental risks, such as water quality issues associated with more fracking leases on our public lands. Lake Lewisville is one of the reservoirs used for Dallas’ drinking water. Bevings highlighted the importance of understanding what happens on our public lands, “It sort of surprises people that, though these national forests are under the jurisdiction of the National Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers has some jurisdiction over some of these reservoirs, that the Bureau of Land Management can make decisions about all of the surface and mineral rights.”
What can you do? The protest phase of the BLM oil and gas lease is right now. By February 18th, any person can submit a protest letter by snail mail to Mark VanEvery, Forest Supervisor, National Forests and Grasslands in Texas, 2221 North Raguet Street, Lufkin, Texas 75904. Contact your local officials for even more impact.
As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.