PUBLIC LANDS -- Peaceful rallies in support of continued federal management of public lands have assembled in cities around the Northwest today, including Spokane, where no firearms were observed.
More than 100 birdwatchers flocked to the Idaho Capitol in Boise today in particular to protest the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon.
In Spokane, Mountain Gear owner Paul Fish pointed out the value of public lands to outdoors-related businesses as well as other industries while Audubon Society leader Kim Thorburn emphasized their importance to birds and other wildlife.
Lands Council director Mike Petersen said he was skiing this weekend at 49 Degrees North, which operates on national forest land to provide recreation, jobs and substantial income for Stevens County.
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers representative Bob Mirasole was there to back the importance of federal public lands for sportsmen.
The Spokane keynote to about 60 supporters was delivered by Gloria Flora, a former national forest supervisor who resigned to protest the treatment of federal employees and the "fed bashing" of their work to manage public lands for all people and interests.
Flora recently was tapped by Time.com to write her opinion of the militants that have taken over the Malheur Refuge in an armed campaign to seize federal lands for local and private control.
Flora says bringing the hammer down on the Bundys and their followers won't fix the much bigger problems lands face.
Her bottom line: Find solutions through collaboration rather than guns and protests.
"The rise of forest collaboratives and citizen-led legislation over the past decade offers bright rays of hope," she told the Spokane gathering.
Acknowledging that federal management isn't perfect, she said things can be worked out when ranchers, loggers, hunters, community leaders, conservationists and other groups get together, roll up their sleeves and look for solutions.
"I left a remarkable career and my retirement on the table to try to end this divisiveness," said Flora, who now works as executive director of Sustainable Obtainable Solutions based in Colville.
"Of all people, you'd think I'd be the first to call for the hammer to come down on this fringe element. But that won't protect public lands or promote civility in public land management.
"So let's put down the guns and handbooks, exchanging vitriol for honest cooperation and common sense. Our finite public resources are under siege by natural, economic and global forces bigger than Bundy's boys. That demands the best stewardship we can muster -- collectively."
Petersen said today's rally would be followed by group hikes and other activities dedicated to showing continued peaceful but determined support from a wide range of citizens for federal lands and the concept of public land management for all people.
Meanwhile, the militants at Malheur are urging Harney County ranchers to tear up their federal grazing contracts and break the law.
And finally, here today's Associated Press update on the Malheur occupation with details of the public pushback on the armed takeover:
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – With the armed takeover of a national wildlife refuge in southeastern Oregon in its third week, Ammon Bundy and his group are still trying to muster up broad community support – so far without much luck.
Bundy has drawn a lot of attention to the dissatisfaction of ranchers and local townsfolk with federal land-use policies in the West. But the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has also begun to result in pushback from others who use public lands – birders, hunters and hikers, among others.
Here are some things to know about how conservation groups are trying to rally public pressure on Bundy to leave, and what Bundy is doing to try to win more sympathizers.
GROWING PUSHBACK AGAINST THE OCCUPATION
On Tuesday, several hundred people rallied in Portland – about 300 miles north of the remote refuge in southeastern Oregon – to demand Bundy end the occupation and to point out that federal management makes it possible for all kinds of people to enjoy public lands.
Protesters chanted “Birds, Not Bullies,” a reference to the Malheur refuge’s creation in 1908 as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds. The rally was organized by Oregon Wild, Portland Audubon and the Center for Biological Diversity.
“This occupation represents a threat to public lands,” said Bob Sallinger with the Audubon Society. “These are not political statements. These are crimes.”
In Boise, more than 100 people attended a similar protest Tuesday in front of the Idaho Capitol. Ann Finley, a member of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, said that the refuge is a special place.
“I love our free lands, and we’re out here today stepping out and saying those lands should remain public,” Finley said.
Conservation groups have also shown up at the refuge itself to demand that Bundy and his followers leave, and last weekend got into a shouting match with Bundy’s group.
BUNDY’S COMMUNITY OUTREACH
Bundy has had trouble winning many friends who aren’t militants, or even finding a place where he could spell out his views to people living near the refuge. His plans to hold a community meeting at the local fairground tanked when Harney County said he couldn’t hold it there.
Still, Bundy isn’t giving up. On Monday night, Bundy held a meeting at a hot springs resort near Crane, Oregon, where he tried to persuade 30 or so ranchers to stop paying the federal government to graze their cattle on public lands. It does not appear he persuaded many to follow his advice.
WILL PUSHBACK BY CONSERVATION GROUPS HAVE ANY IMPACT?
Bundy’s most fervent supporters – those holed up inside headquarters of the wildlife refuge – continue to be militants from outside Oregon. Bundy has demanded federal lands in Harney County be handed over to locals. While many local residents want Bundy and his group to leave, they also back his views on federal land policies. Bundy’s game plan may be to continue to try to win local support and to draw as much attention as possible to his complaints against the federal government.
The small, armed group Bundy leads has said repeatedly that local people should control federal lands. Bundy has repeatedly told reporters the group would leave when there was a plan in place to turn over federal lands to locals – a common refrain in a decades-long fight over public lands in the West. At a Tuesday news conference, Bundy said “we’re not going anywhere” until his group gets its goals accomplished.
WHAT’S LAW ENFORCEMENT DOING ABOUT THIS?
The situation at the refuge is being carefully monitored by FBI agents sent to the area, by Oregon State Police and by the local sheriff. Last week, the first arrest related to the occupation came when a militant driving a vehicle belonging to the refuge drove 30 miles into Burns to buy groceries. He was arrested on probable cause for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. Bundy’s group has been using federal vehicles on the refuge. If they drive them off the refuge, they can probably count on being arrested.