Harrington's Sort & Cull

Occupy Cattle Country?

By John Harrington , DTN Livestock Analyst

Saturday will mark the three-week anniversary of the strange, silly, and sad seizure of an Oregon bird sanctuary, apparently considered by some freedom fighters/vigilantes as the very citadel of Federal domination and liberty destruction. Go figure.

Actually, when French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille in 1789, no more than seven prisoners were liberated. I guess sometimes you just have to work with what's available. You know, for the good of the cause.

And Ammon Bundy, son of rancher Cliven Bundy who still owes more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees, certainly believes he and his motley crew of armed occupiers have a good cause, defending something far more worthy than pileated woodpeckers and yellow warblers. I guess.

As far as I can tell, Bundy and the boys have commandeered this federally-funded cuckoo's nest in order to protest Washington's excessive ownership of western land. Ammon seems to be a proud chip off the old government-hating block, pining for the good old days of the open range when the fruits of Mother Nature were the inalienable property of anyone man enough to take them.

If you ask me, I think they've got it wrong on several counts. Despite the best conspiracy theories available, public ownership of land has not been an evil plot against private interests per se, but a complicated combination of default realities and commendable pursuits of the common good.

For starters, the Oregon protestors should put down flags and guns long enough to read a good history of land distribution after the Civil War. The story of homesteading follows a definite curve of increasingly liberal terms. While it was relatively easy to attract new landowners in the early rounds, the pool of real estate gamers dried-up as available acres pushed deeper and deeper into the arid West. Bigger grants and easier ways to "prove-up" helped a little, but not enough to avoid land that the government literally couldn't give away.

In many cases, when it came to the desert likes of Nevada and Utah, Uncle Sam became the homesteader of last resort.

Secondly, if the Feds have occasionally conspired to snatch certain land away from private use, I would argue along with Teddy Roosevelt that the preservation of national parks and natural wonders for the benefit and enjoyment of all America is well worth the insult felt by some single-minded advocates of private property. You may wish to take issue with me. Please feel free to take a number. The line has been known to be long.

But whether you agree with these specific points or not, I think most of us are getting tired of these poorly focused campers. Like the occupiers of Wall Street in late 2011, the "cowboys" defending the bird sanctuary have probably overstayed whatever effectiveness they were hoping to display. Guys, it is time to go home.

Indeed, I am guessing they hear the same frustrated message from family members left too long by themselves to hay cows, pull calves, and generally pay the bills.



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