For the past eleven days, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a bird sanctuary in Oregon, has been occupied by an armed militia. This outbreak, while being the action of a few radicals, conveys a greater conflict in the region between the Bureau of Land Management and local ranchers, with specific arguments over grazing permits that have grown scarcer to protect the wide variety of birds that settle in the refuge in addition to the domain of federal laws.
On the surface, this seems like a case of a bunch of cowboys, dedicated to a simple life of reaping from the land, protesting the overly meddlesome federal government and desiring a return to former glory. However, the very cause of the strength of this Wildlife Refuge came from decades of overuse by individual ranchers and poor environmental conditions, which made a case for regulation and oversight. Ever since the 1930s, ranchers in the area have been subsidized by the low prices charged to graze their cattle on the Refuge, so the situation is far more convoluted than it may seem.
This occupation is the work of a militant, extremist subset of ranchers, led by Ammon Bundy, who feel a sense of alienation from the federal government and want control of the refuge to be ceded back to the people. Their aggressive rhetoric masks one of the more valid components of the larger movement to limit the influence of these federal lands: the constitutional argument over the property clause. This clause either gives Congress the ability to set the rules for publicly owned land or the ability to only own the land and thus expose the land to state and local laws, but the precedent from the Supreme Court is that Congress can legislate over these lands.
This situation begs an interesting question about the importance of governmental responsiveness, especially within the sweeping government bureaucracy, for if people feel the reaching hand of a distant power and cannot properly represent their sentiment, dissension and violence often breaks out. Ironically, the same government they so despise can protect them from themselves and represent the interest of the greater good, a main reason bureaucratic agencies have a degree of discretion over their jurisdictions and insulation from true democracy.
To what extent should the government be open to compromise with these militias? Relating back to the State of the Union, how does America dampen internal extremism that threatens the safety of its citizens? How can we balance the issue of environmental protection with economic priorities of farmers and ranchers? Under what government should the jurisdiction of publicly owned lands fall? The federal government, or the state governments?