GUEST POST: The Trouble With Avoiding Trouble

by Justin Robbins

Robbins is a frequent contributor to the Cowgirl Blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @JustinRobbins15 

Finding myself largely aggravated by the militia takeover of an Oregon bird sanctuary, I have spent an unusual amount of time researching the circumstances leading up to it.  There are several; and they approach from multiple angles.

By now, any reader of this essay would have had to work pretty hard to not have heard about the “rogue infidel” armed band of Y’all Queda yokels seeking celebrity status in the middle of nowhere.  If not, allow me to suggest this Rolling Stone piece, complimented by Matti Taibbi‘s piece to fill out your curiosity. Their actual agenda seems fairly fluid (although they clearly want…something), but is it is safe to say their trip to Oregon was catalyzed by the federal criminal case against Steven and Dwight Hammond, well covered here by David French.

We are at the point where our discussions of this melodrama are focusing on what we believe is the best course of action.  It is here that I find myself conflicted.  On the one hand, everything I understand about the criminal justice system, coupled with everything I’ve learned about the Hammonds’ criminal case, leans toward the conclusion that, for reasons I neither possess nor expect will ever be acknowledged or revealed, these men were not treated fairly.  At least not in a manner I would hope to be treated in their place.

That belief, on the other hand, aligns me in principle (on this one point) with what I can only bring myself to describe as dangerous fanatics now entrenched at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  These men have emerged, through unfortunate and unforgivably avoidable inaction on the part of federal law enforcement, as the ridiculously emboldened cream of a Constitutionally illiterate crop of disaffected, opportunistic and delusional middle-aged white men with Josey Wales Syndrome.  But, I digress.

The conundrum here is how to illuminate the highly unusual government treatment of the Hammonds, while denying the Bundys any claim to a second victorious, armed insurrection; validating not only their method, but elevating them to the vaunted status of anti-hero, for which they would happily die…or, apparently, kill.  It is a Catch-22 of identity politics, catalyzed by the complete and abject failure of federal law enforcement to hold to account the perpetrators of the 2014 Nevada stand-off.  Sadly, there is no clear path.

There is also little solace in the recognition that a full compliment of executive and judicial branch officials have twice-overed the Hammonds’ case.  A thorough study of the circumstances of their trial and plea negotiations inevitably causes the reader to imagine themselves in such circumstances.  The obvious, dismissive retort is, “Hey, don’t poach. Failing that, don’t start fires on public land to cover it up.”  Still and all, one is drawn to empathize; and is even reluctant to associate them with Bundy 2.0, based on their honorable resignation to their fate, and disavowal  of the seditious militants.  Any intervention on the Hammonds’ behalf, by a legitimate authority, would likely be met on all sides with some degree of favor.

As for the costumed cranks claiming divine caveat and spewing sovereign citizen rhetoric; the time has come to act.  They’ve had their press conferences and their nearly every need has been accommodated by those who are entrusted…sworn…to uphold our nation’s laws.  There is no need to storm the ramparts; however, there is likewise no need to allow access to supply caravans, nor provide electrical power to the facility.  Also, I can’t imagine our tax dollars haven’t, at some point, provided the FBI with the equipment necessary to block cell phone signals, or at the very least, roads.

Ignoring radicalized faux patriots such as these will not make them go away.  Clearly.  It will make them declare victory and, worse yet, it will actually look like a victory.  It will embolden other like-minded groups and individuals and, whether it inspires them or not, will be the precedent mentioned in the media reports of whatever happens next.

By all means, let us use discretion.  There is no need for the government to initiate a violent interdiction.  But it is time to shut these clowns down and show them, and everyone watching, that armed occupation is not “civil” disobedience, and is not a viable means by which to seek redress of grievances in a nation of laws.



38 Comments on "GUEST POST: The Trouble With Avoiding Trouble"

  1. Regarding the Hammonds, the article ignores the numerous death threats, and destruction of federal property that’s been a family tradition for over 20 years; these guys are not victims!

    Yes, turn off the electricity, blockade the roads (it is, after all, a CRIME SCENE), and end the fed ex deliveries! The treatment of these guys is so different from any other “siege” that I can recall.

    I believe the American public is bewildered at the lack of enforcement of both Cliven’s Bundy and now his sons Ammon and Ryan. I cannot explain it myself.

  2. The Hammonds received a fair trial and were found guilty as hell. One can argue that mandatory minimum sentencing is a bad idea, and I would, but that’s a different issue from their lawbreaking and long history of bullying and misbehaving. They earned their conviction and sentences. They’re not the poster children for persecution. See:

  3. If the federal government were as evil as the Bundy Bunch claims, they’d all be dead by now. So there’s some wisdom is allowing them to continue to be a national laughingstock.
    Just quietly compile felony warrants, arrest them one-by-one at an opportune low-risk time in the future and let an American jury decide their fate.
    And if they’re convicted, take their guns away for life and prosecute anyone who provides them with more guns illegally under anti-terrorism laws.

  4. Commendable restraint on a régime that seems like they would prefer the aggressive standoff. These small festers of puss that disrespect the vision and sacrifice of real Patriots have been given more curtsies than they deserve.
    Public domain lands represent the best of America and lands set aside for the enjoyment of people verses corporate controls exemplifies freedom!
    I see no difference between access down navigable streams, and Great Lakes system than public lands used for commerce and sustainable hunting.
    Thanks for you article
    David Dailey

  5. I appreciate Justin taking a stab at this issue, but here are a few points to also consider.

    First, it’s not “a militia takeover of an Oregon bird sanctuary” as stated in the lead.

    It’s “a militia takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge,” which is federal public land that belongs equally to all Americans. It just happens to be located within the state of Oregon. That might seems like some nitpicking of semantics, but it’s some very important context that needs to be part of this entire story.

    The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge also is not just a ‘bird sanctuary,’ although certainly the Refuge and surrounding area is very important bird habitat, supporting up to 66% of the Pacific Flyway’s migrating populations for priority waterfowl.

    According to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge website, the Refuge also hosts over 58 species of mammals, including mule deer, pronghorn antelope and even Rocky Mountain elk from time to time.

    While Justin claims to “have spent an unusual amount of time researching the circumstances leading up to it,” I’m wondering if he came across High Country News’ 40 years of coverage on these issues?

    Might I specifically suggest the October 1994 article “Ranchers arrested at wildlife refuge:”

    Here’s a snip: “Hammond allegedly made death threats against previous managers in 1986 and 1988 and against Cameron, the current manager, in 1991 and again this year.”

    Yep, great people, eh? I fail to see how “one is drawn to empathize” with the Hammonds.

    Another important bit of context, which I didn’t find in this piece, is any mention about the tremendous economic and ecological costs of the federal public lands livestock grazing program.

    Many American’s are shocked to learn that 250 MILLION acres of federal public lands – including many protected Wilderness areas and Wildlife Refuges – are open to livestock grazing by private ranchers and their cows and sheep.

    The economic cost to the American taxpayer in the just the past decade of this program is estimated at $1 BILLION. The ecological cost to native wildlife and their habitat, clean water/springs/creeks and the spread of non-native weeds from this public lands grazing are all tremendous as well.

    And as I’ve pointed out here below, remember it’s not just the public lands ranchers who are getting a sweetheart deal. Logging, hardrock mining, fracking and oil and gas drilling and coal mining on America’s federal public lands are all heavily subsidized by the American taxpayers. And this has been going on for decades and decades.

    Also, in honor of Throwback Thursday, it’s worth remembering that just 13 months ago both Senator Tester and Senator Daines (who at the time was Rep Daines) greatly celebrated the so-called “Grazing ‘Improvement Act,” which was attached as a rider to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act as part of the ‘grand-bargain’ of largely anti-environmental and anti-public lands riders that was cobbled together behind closed doors in DC.

    That public lands grazing rider represented a complete roll back of environmental law and public input into public lands grazing permit renewals. Essentially, because of that rider, public lands grazing permits are now renewed REGARDLESS of an environmental analysis, public land health conditions and regardless of the impact on wildlife, including endangered species.

    It’s also worth pointing out that groups like the Montana Wilderness Association, Montana Wildlife Federation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers didn’t raise one-single peep of protest about the public lands grazing rider at the time, or the back room horse-trading that brought about all those anti-environmental and anti-public lands riders. But hey, #KeepItPublic, right?

    While we hear a lot of rhetoric from Senator Tester, Senator Daines and Rep Zinke about ‘forest health’ and hear them claiming that they care about the poor health of America’s public lands (only in the context of cutting down more trees, it would seem) Montana’s congressional delegation remains silent about the ecological impacts of taxpayer subsidized grazing on public lands (aided no doubt by the fact that groups like MWA, MWF, et al remain silent and don’t dare speak out about it.)

    Just last week Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility released a new interactive map (based on a FOIA of over 45,000 BLM records) that looked at a total of 20,000 grazing allotments throughout the west. What did they find?

    Well, according to the map ( 29% of allotted land, or 16% of the number of BLM public lands grazing allotments studied, failed to meet even the BLM’s fairly low standards of rangeland health due to the impacts associated with livestock grazing.

    Where’s the outrage from the Montana delegation or groups like the Montana Wilderness Association, Montana Wildlife Federation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers over this?

    I keep saying it folks, and I’ll say it again. America’s public lands legacy is under attack and the attack is unfortunately coming from the right and also from way too many people, politicians and organizations on the left, who are worried too much about losing the next election or losing that big foundation check to really stand up and fight for America’s public lands. This has been a political PR battle as much as anything and unfortunately America’s public lands legacy is just being chipped away in the process. Groups and politicians on the left will greatly exaggerate any victory, claim it’s historic, while they systematically ignore and sweep under the rug all the negative public lands policies that ended up being part of their ‘grand bargain.’ At this stage in the game – both for our public lands and also for our environment and future on this planet – we need to stop further compromising away America’s public lands legacy, need to stop undermine our nation’s bedrock environmental and wildlife laws and we need to speak the truth about what’s really happening and what’s really at stake.

      • HI Justin,

        Thanks. I’d just like to point out that what I wrote was:

        “It’s also worth pointing out that groups like the Montana Wilderness Association, Montana Wildlife Federation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers didn’t raise one-single peep of protest about the public lands grazing rider at the time, or the back room horse-trading that brought about all those anti-environmental and anti-public lands riders.”

        As you can see, I was talking specifically about the ‘Grazing Improvement Act” rider and those other anti-public lands riders from the Dec 2014 NDAA, not about the Oregon Standoff. Also, it should be pointed out that the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers statement on the Oregon Standoff doesn’t mention the words ‘grazing’ or ‘ranching’ once.

    • Matthew, I share your concern about the health of our public lands and the wayward character of our politicians — of all stripes — but I would like to add a couple of observations about ranching and the health of our prairies. It is a great mistake, I think, to demonize ranchers. Most of them are wonderful, law-abiding people and not only that, they are learning (sometimes too slowly, of course) how to be good stewards of grassland. Rotation, cross-fencing, water development and so on are restoring the health of many beaten-to-death pastures; in fact, the pastures become much more profitable to the rancher when they are healthy. Moreover, the grasslands evolved in tandem with grazing bison, and grazing, if done the right way, can actually help protect the long-term health of the grasses. Ranching is a tough business nowadays, and this constant disparagement of the people who do it only leads to their demoralization — and ranchers selling out. That selling out is how we really screw up the prairie over the long term because the ranchettes and developments are almost always far worse for the native prairie than ranchers are. Plus, you lose perhaps the most distinctive thing of all environmentally — the wide open spaces. This is just to say that ranchers should be fed lots of carrots, too, when they do the right thing, and not just beaten with sticks.

      And as an aside, the key issue about grazing on public lands is not always the grazing per se — as I said, the grazing can actually benefit the land — but how the grazing is done. As it often is now, the rancher has no strong incentive to maintain the health of the public land he leases since he doesn’t own it and feels that the authorities regard him as the enemy. The feds should therefore be working with ranchers (as they sometimes do) to develop thoughtful, scientifically informed grazing plans that protect the well-being of both the land and the ranchers who, like it or not, oversee so much of our open space.

      • Good comment. Studies have shown that properly done grazing can improve riparian habitat that is under stress from other causes. Done wrong the reverse is true in spades! What bothers me is selling land like the lot w/cabin at Echo Lake, or several other lots w/water frontage. Why? We have tons of cash in the coal tax fund and our budget is in the black. We should be adding more opportunities for families to use our public waterways, not sell them to the rich.

    • Interesting comment. It raises good issues, and I agree with the first half. However, the last half of the comment seems a bit over the top.

      I didn’t realize grazing was permitted in wilderness areas so I dug a little. Turns out it’s permitted in virtually all BLM wilderness areas, but not wilderness areas administered by the National Park Service. Secondly, if the Grazing Act being cited here is S.258 — 113th Congress (2013-2014), then the characterization of the bill here seems inaccurate. Specifically, it looks like the act:

      “Requires a permit or lease to be continued until the Secretary concerned completes any environmental analysis and documentation for the permit or lease required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and other applicable laws.

      Instructs the Secretary concerned to seek to conduct environmental reviews on an allotment or multiple allotment basis, if the allotments share similar ecological conditions for purposes of compliance with NEPA and other applicable laws.

      Permits the exclusion of grazing permits or leases from environmental assessment or environmental impact statement requirements under NEPA if: (1) the issued permit or lease continues the current grazing management of the allotment, and (2) the Secretary concerned has determined that the allotment meets applicable standards or objectives. Permits the exclusion of the trailing and crossing of livestock across public land from such requirements.”

      I think this is a far cry from “a complete roll back of environmental law and public input into public lands grazing permit renewals” as stated in this comment.

      NEPA is a fairly long process and includes many opportunities for public comment and environmental assessment. To fault the Montana Wilderness Association for not making a big fuss about a rider which includes a process for environmental assessment and review, and public comment seems a little bit like a cheap shot. Again, digging further, it looks like the grazing permits in BLM wilderness areas were grandfathered in, and can’t be legally expanded. They can, however be rescinded once an appropriate process is followed.

      I think MWA’s mission is to “Work with communities to protect Montana’s wilderness heritage, quiet beauty and outdoor traditions, now and for future generations.” I’d argue that grazing (for better or worse) is part of that heritage, and given the resources available to MWA, it’s not fair to fault MWA for working at the edges of the problem. They may not have much to say at the national level, but they have lots to say at the local level.

      Further, I’d strongly dispute this statement, “Groups and politicians on the left will greatly exaggerate any victory, claim it’s historic, while they systematically ignore and sweep under the rug all the negative public lands policies that ended up being part of their ‘grand bargain.’ ” Have you been in any discussions with “groups and politicians on the left” over the past 40 years? Most groups and politicians that work these issues know they enter into devil’s bargains, but take it because without them, there would be no protection at all. Is it enough? No. To dismiss the hard and difficult work of consultation, creativity and compromise as “undermin(ing) our nation’s bedrock environmental and wildlife laws” strikes me as dishonest and disingenuous hyperbole.

      • Hi Bob Schmitt,

        RE: Grazing permitted in public lands Wilderness areas. You also forgot to include Wilderness managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

        The characterization of the Grazing Improvement Act I provided is not inaccurate. It’s the same characterization of the Grazing Improvement Act that was provided by conservation groups that are recognized as leaders on the entire issue of public lands grazing.


        I would; however, say that the characterization of the Grazing Improvement Act (and NEPA process) that you provided here is not entirely accurate. Again, I’d encourage you to check with the nation’s leading experts on the public lands grazing issue (groups like Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and Advocates for the West) and see what they have to say about how this all plays out and what the actually language of the Grazing rider means on the ground.

        Finally, if you fail to see how presently our nation’s bedrock environmental and wildlife laws are being undermined by attacks from both the left and the right I honestly can’t help that. Seems like plenty of public lands conservation groups around the country realize this and speak out about it. To think that sounding the alarm about this fact is ‘dishonest and disingenuous hyperbole” is just weird, given the pretty clear situation playing out right now and how our America’s public lands legacy is clearly at stake. I agree, the devil is in the details, and unfortunately those details are devilish, at least to those of us who have devoted most all of our adult life working on public lands policy, law and science.

        • I don’t think your argument is strengthened or enhanced by the characterizations of the Grazing Act or the intentions/effectiveness of the organizations in your post. The grazing issue is huge, and to date there has been no truly effective collaborative effort to address the root issues involved in the contest between private ranchers and the public interest, at least not since the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934. I suspect we’re on the same side of the issue, but exaggerating the impact of the Grazing Improvement Act and not, in the same breath, addressing the woeful lack of political will and resources to enforce the laws and regulations already on the books, seems to be a bit off target. Without effective enforcement, no regulation will have meaning.

          • Hi Bob,

            I stand by my characterizations of the ‘Grazing Improvement Act’ rider that was attached to the 2014 NDAA and celebrated by Senator Tester and Daines. It’s the same characterization offered by groups such as Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and Advocates for the West…all of whom are recognized as leaders and experts in public lands grazing policy and science.

            I do agree that the public lands grazing issue is huge. In fact, 250 million acres (1/4 of a billion!) acres of Amercia’s federal public lands are available for private grazing of livestock by ranchers.

            I also know of “no truly effective collaborative effort to address the root issues involved in the contest between private ranchers and the public interest.” Perhaps that shows a major pitfall to ‘collaboration’ as it is currently playing out in places like Montana.

            My comment wasn’t really about the ‘woeful lack of political will and resources to enforce the laws and regulations already on the books.” However, I suppose I easily could write up a bunch of stuff about that too, as we’ve been working to raise awareness about the ecological and economic impacts of the federal public lands grazing program for at least the past 20 years, again working closely with groups like Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, etc.

            Of course, the Grazing Improvement Act further ties the hands of the agencies as they attempt to enforce the laws, regulations and ensure full public input and science-based management of grazing on federal public lands. Thanks.

            • This is another area that would benefit from campaign finance reform. A reasonable solution is much easier without the huge pull of moneyed interests in the direction of making them more money. With the current system, campaign donations speak LOUDLY.

    • The fact that the FBI is refusing to take action means this is probably a false flag operation, and the participants have been assured they’ll not be prosecuted. I mean, imagine if they were blacks or Indians … Tanks would be lining the roads.

      Also, groups like MWA, MWF, TU, etc are taking Pew money, which is the Sun Oil fortune, so these are essentially industry front groups, which is why Tester, et al, have used them so much.

  6. Matthew pretty much covered it. An important point is that the Hammonds have a long history of run ins with refuge employees. The article was particularly poor on the history of the refuge and the timing of various conflicts. The last major purchase of land for the refuge was in 1942, another major purchase was in 1935. Between them these two purchases nearly doubled the size of the refuge.

    The article also neglected to mention that in 2013 a long range management plan was released which had input from all of the stakeholders in the refuge — including ranching interests, and that the plan allowed for continued grazing on refuge lands. Trusting the National Review to have decent coverage of something like this is foolish

  7. Matthew Koehler, you nailed it! It’s an insiders game and the parties involved will always use that position to further their agenda. PUBLIC land designation has real meaning. Without rigorous input and participation, the players will PLAY.

  8. What was forgotten in the article is that for some of the fires set by the Hammonds, lives were endangered. In one case, it was a hunting guide and his clients, in a second, it was Federal Forest Firefighters.

    • I read one article that said his nephew was nearly trapped and had to lie in a creek to save himself. The roll of the Mormon church cannot be ignored in this-they were primary instigators of Sagebrush Rebellion.

  9. Matthew Koehler is spot on with his comments regarding Montana “environmental groups”. Many of such groups have allowed themselves to become impotent and ineffective, refuse to take on any issue that is controversial – like public lands grazing, and are selling out true conservationists with their focus on collaboration and fundraising. With friends such as these, our public lands and wildlife doesn’t have a chance!

    Although a past member, I have resigned from Montana Wilderness Association, Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument, and The Wilderness Society. I now support fighters like Western Watersheds Project, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Gallatin Wildlife Association, and Buffalo Field Campaign.

  10. I’m a rancher and I appreciated Mark Stevens’ comments. Regarding the Bundys, I’m not supportive of either the sons’ current position, or the father’s position of refusing to pay lease fees. I don’t lease federal land, but do lease from the state. If I remember correctly from another post, a graph indicated the current market value (whatever that means) of grazing is about $20/AUM, and BLM is about $3/AUM. I pay the state $25/AUM. I don’t think private, state, and federal grazing lands are strictly equivalent, so I think there can be legitimate reasons for a difference in charges. In my opinion, the land I lease from the state has shown habitat improvement since I first leased it 12 years ago.


    We do NOT need another ‘Freemen’ style circus that infected Montana twenty years ago….

    These misfits should be appealing to CONGRESS to change mandatory sentencing for all, ranchers and all Americans, and politicians servants to the prison-industrial complex. Even the GOP realizes we’re dooming millions with little gain and as Victor Hugo said, ‘open a door to a school, close a door to a prison’………

  12. Dear Montana Cowgirl:
    1. Please consider engaging more full as an editor. Matthew Koehler’s critique has shown the several weaknesses of Justin’s research and writing.
    2. At a different level, please edit posting to the blog. The misspellings and errors in construction suggest no one at Montana Cowgirl read Justin’s piece before posting it.

  13. Regarding the essayists suggestion that the Oregon kooks are being ignored. They arn’t. They are being mocked relentlessly on social media and after being sent a bag of dildoes, they whined about it on facebook. For a bunch of fat white guys with guns, they sure are butthurt.

  14. Let’s all send them some ‘delish’ chocolate Cowpies, more their style!

    First arrest, of MANY coming I hope for these Bundy Bozos and Militia MISFITS how are going farmers and ranchers a bad name!

  16. “The ox is slow but the earth is patient”

    If one of these ‘occupiers’ were convicted of a felony, would that person lose the right to own or carry a firearm?

  17. So stealing a government vehicle is illegal? Go figure. They will be arrested one by one as they leave for various infractions. Seems they found the s00per sekrit spy cams though!

  18. See also: Timber Oligarchs Transform Into Beef Barons in Harney County and the Oregon High Desert

  19. BLM Report: Public lands ranching fails rangeland health standards on a third of rangelands assessed, 33 million acres

    Full Post:


    The “Rangeland Inventory, Monitoring and Evaluation Report for Fiscal Year 2011” covers BLM allotments in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The report totals BLM acreage failing to meet rangeland health standards in measures such as water quality, watershed functionality and wildlife habitat:

    • Almost 40% of BLM allotments surveyed since 1998 have failed to meet the agency’s own required land health standards with impairment of more than 33 million acres, an area exceeding the State of Alabama in size, attributed to livestock grazing;

    • Overall, 30% of BLM’s allotment area surveyed to date suffers from significant livestock-induced damage, suggesting that once the remaining allotments have been surveyed, the total impaired area could well be larger than the entire State of Washington; and

    • While factors such as drought, fire, invasion by non-native plants, and sprawl are important, livestock grazing is identified by BLM experts as the primary cause (nearly 80%) of BLM lands not meeting health standards.


    It’s worth remembering that in this context Jon Tester and Steve Daines fought for, and celebrated, the passage of the so-called “Grazing Improvement Act” as a rider to the completely unrelated 2014 National Defense Authorization Act. Because of that rider, public lands grazing permits are now renewed regardless of an environmental analysis, public land health conditions and regardless of the impact on wildlife, including endangered species.

    And once again, groups like the Montana Wilderness Association, Montana Wildlife Federation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers didn’t raise one-single peep of protest about the public lands grazing rider at the time, and to my knowledge have never once said anything in public about it.


    • Your statement, “Because of that rider, public lands grazing permits are now renewed regardless of an environmental analysis, public land health conditions and regardless of the impact on wildlife, including endangered species” is factually incorrect.

      The Grazing Improvment Act specifically addresses environmental review, in the context of the NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) environmental review and citizen comment process”

      From S.258 – Grazing Improvement Act 113th Congress (2013-2014), which amends Section 402 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1752):

      “(2) CONTINUATION OF TERMS UNDER NEW PERMIT OR LEASE.—The terms and conditions in a grazing permit or lease that has expired, or was terminated due to a grazing preference transfer, shall be continued under a new permit or lease until the date on which the Secretary concerned completes any environmental analysis and documentation for the permit or lease required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and other applicable laws.

      “(3) COMPLETION OF PROCESSING.—As of the date on which the Secretary concerned completes the processing of a grazing permit or lease in accordance with paragraph (2), the permit or lease may be canceled, suspended, or modified, in whole or in part.

      “(4) ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS.—The Secretary concerned shall seek to conduct environmental reviews on an allotment or multiple allotment basis, to the extent practicable, if the allotments share similar ecological conditions, for purposes of compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and other applicable laws.”;

      (3) by redesignating subsection (h) as subsection (j); and
      (4) by inserting after subsection (g) the following:
      “(h) National Environmental Policy Act Of 1969.—
      “(1) IN GENERAL.—The issuance of a grazing permit or lease by the Secretary concerned may be categorically excluded from the requirement to prepare an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) if—
      “(A) the issued permit or lease continues the current grazing management of the allotment; and
      “(B) the Secretary concerned—
      “(i) has assessed and evaluated the grazing allotment associated with the lease or permit; and
      “(ii) based on the assessment and evaluation under clause (i), has determined that the allotment—
      “(I) with respect to public land administered by the Secretary of the Interior—
      “(aa) is meeting land health standards; or
      “(bb) is not meeting land health standards due to factors other than existing livestock grazing; or
      “(II) with respect to National Forest System land administered by the Secretary of Agriculture—
      “(aa) is meeting objectives in the applicable land and resource management plan; or
      “(bb) is not meeting the objectives in the applicable land resource management plan due to factors other than existing livestock grazing.”

      There are a ton of conditions that require NEPA review and public comment here.

      To address your concluding statement: Planned Parenthood and the National Bowling Association also did not comment in the process leading up to adding this bill the national defense appropriation? Why? I can only speculate that the scope of the bill was outside the active mission of the organizations, or the provisions of the bill were somehow consonant with the activities of the organizations. I can only speculate, after reading the bill, that the organizations you mentions also saw that the bill did not preclude EIS and public comments on specific grazing lease reviews, and thus, did not warrant a full-court press with the limited resources available to them. MWA, MWF, BHA have to choose their battles. I can certainly understand why they chose not to substitute “the perfect” for “the good” in this instance.

      I can’t really figure out what you want from these statements. You allude to “proof” of some dastardly actions which, upon examination, don’t look that dastardly or underhanded (given what passes for underhanded these days in DC), for what purpose?

      • Sorry, Bob. Your interpretation of the Grazing Improvement Act is factually incorrect. You may want to pay a little more attention to the word “SHALL” in the text of the bill. Especially the phrase “SHALL BE CONTINUED.”

        The word “shall” is very different than the word “may” in the context of legislation.

        Might I also recommend that you do a little bit of research about the tremendous backlog the U.S. Forest Service and BLM are in conducting NEPA review for grazing permits. In just the Dept of Interior (i.e. BLM) a backlog of 4,200 grazing permits lacking NEPA built up as 2012. And with more budget cuts in the past few years you can only assume that the number of backlogged permits not getting NEPA analysis has increased, not decreased. So can you see how the “SHALL BE CONTINUED” language applies directly to the backlog of NEPA for 4,200 public lands grazing permits?

        Again, I’ll point out that my statements about the Grazing Improvement Act are entirely consistent with the policy experts at the most active public lands grazing watchdog organizations in the country, including Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity and Advocates for the West. If you doubt that contact these groups directly and ask them, instead of bringing up some strange notion that Planned Parenthood and the National Bowling Association should have also been active in educating the public and their membership about the many negative anti-environmental and anti-public lands riders attached to the NDAA in 2014.

        Here’s a good article written by Western Watersheds Project about the Grazing Improvement Act (which they rebranded the Grazing Entrenchment Act, for good reason).

        I do recall that the extension from 10 year terms to 20 year terms actually wasn’t included in the version of the bill that passed at the rider, but everything else in that article should be a solid review for you to consider.

        Finally, regarding your speculation at the end of your comment, it’s tough to take that speculation seriously when you don’t have a full understand of what the language of the rider actually means, or an understanding of the current backlog of NEPA on grazing permits, etc. Also, tough to take the ‘limited resources available to them’ seriously when it’s applied to a group like the Montana Wilderness Association that has gotten millions of dollars from just the Pew Foundation. And your “the perfect’ for “the good” makes absolutely no sense in the context of what the Grazing Improvement Act does. I know of nobody in the entire public lands conservation movement who called the “Grazing Improvement Act” a “good” bill. Groups either opposed it strongly, or ignored it likely so the public and their memberships wouldn’t know anything about it.


        • Hi Bob Schmitt. You may be interested in this comment from 
Josh Osher of the Western Watersheds Project, which was posted on the Missoulian website right after the NDAA (and riders such as the “Grazing Improvement Act) passed. Not only Josh – a public lands grazing expert – provide some good additional context about what the language of the rider actually means on the ground, but he takes the Missoulian to task for providing the public with wrong information.

          Another irony here is that the media reported some wrong information about what the Grazing Improvement Act does, or does not do, because the wrong information was included in the joint press release sent out by Tester, Daines and Walsh.


          Dec 7, 2014 9:56am

          It’s totally amazing that after nearly a week of this legislation being released and the language available for review by journalists, the Missoulian is still getting it wrong. I even posted this fact as a comment to the first article on the lands package in the NDAA, but apparently, the editors and journalists don’t actually read the comments. The “Grazing Improvement Act” GIA as the language appears in the NDAA DOES NOT include 20 year permits. Nor was this now or ever the most important part of this legislation in terms of the impact on the environment and wildlife.

          The GIA is a bad bill because it mandates that grazing permits be renewed without any environmental review or public input. Additionally, it creates a new type of categorical exclusion that allows other grazing permits to be renewed even if there are extraordinary circumstances (like priority sage-grouse habitat) without any environmental review or public input. The language completely short-circuits the current process of amending land use management plans for greater sage-grouse and could be a determining factor in a USFWS decision to list the species.

PLEASE, Missoulian staff, issue a correction and get this story right. Other papers are covering this (Idaho Statesman) because they actually do their homework, read the legislation, and followed a really newsworthy part of this story that does have a big impact on Montanans.

Josh Osher – Western Watersheds Project

        • I am quite familiar with the difference between “shall” and “may”, and the language which requires compliance with NEPA (including EIS and citizen review) is clearly in sections 2, 3, and 4 of the Act to which you refer. It provides a significant cause of action should a particular grazing lease approval not meet current BLM standards for good practice (and clearly, given your post, the
          BLM is very aware that much of the land it manages is degraded by current leaseholders). There is a huge difference in what the statute states, and how it is implemented. But to state, categorically, that this Act exempts existing grazing leases from NEPA processes is patently false.

          I will grant you that enforcement and addressing the backlog of lease reviews is an entirely different question, and goes to my earlier comments about resources. The lack of resources to address the backlog of leasing review may (note, I didn’t used the word “shall”) have the practical consequence of degrading wildlands, but that is an entirely different issue than looking at the specific language in the statutes that regulate the process of grazing lease review.

          I don’t have a dog in this fight, other than I frequently use public lands for recreation and pay my taxes. But it seems you belabor a point that isn’t factually correct and I don’t understand why.

          • Hi Bob,

            Nothing I have written above about the Grazing Improvement Act ‘isn’t factually correct’ or ‘patently false.’ Again, I’d encourage you to reach out and contact the public lands grazing policy experts at the organizations I’ve listed above a couple times now. I work with these folks on a weekly basis and have for 20+ years, and I’m positive they’d be willing and able to help you better understand the on-the-ground policy implications of the GIA.

  20. Lotsa wonkish info here – gets confusing. Just remember what the Bundy bunch wants is an unfair advantage over law abiding ranchers who pay their fees and taxes. What makes them so special?

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