Anti-government militants' takeover of buildings at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge here in Oregon has a lot of absurd aspects.
For example, the ranchers (convicted of federal crimes) they supposedly are supporting have disavowed the militants. Seemingly most of the people in Harney County, where the refuge is located, want the outsiders to leave.
Also, the militants claim to be defending the Constitution. But the founders of this country set up a method to decide how the Constitution is to be defended. It's called the Supreme Court. Until that court rules federal ownership of land is unconstitutional, those who say otherwise have no legal leg to stand on.
So they should be raising money for court battles, rather than carrying guns around and shooting their mouths off about claiming the Malheur Wildlife Refuge for private ownership.
My favorite absurdity, though, is how right-wing supporters of the refuge occupiers like to frame the dispute as a battle between hard-working independent cattle ranchers and an overbearing federal government.
The truth is that "welfare ranching" is alive and well in Harney County, as it is throughout the West.
Taxpayers heavily subsidize those who raise cattle on public lands. So it is ridiculous that the militants are complaining about federal control of those lands, when ranchers benefit so much from publicly financed giveaways.
The welfare rancher label applies to all ranchers who hold permits to graze the vast public spaces of the West, both delinquent and not. It includes the Wright brothers; the ranchers in Iron and Beaver counties in Utah complaining that wild horses eat too much; and 21,000 others.
They are all welfare ranchers subsidized by US taxpayers, and you know who are the biggest welfare ranchers of all, grazing livestock on the hundreds of millions of acres of public grass and forest land, all assisted by public subsidies paid for by US taxpayers?
Billionaires that populate Forbes rich lists.
The .01 percenters. They are the nation’s biggest welfare ranchers, according to numerous environmental and policy groups; and it’s time they brought some attention to themselves, and the federal grazing program they’re exploiting to waste as much as $1 billion a year of taxpayer money while causing long-term damage to one of the public’s most treasured assets.
Treasured is the right word. Citizens say they want federal land to be protected for future generations, with livestock grazing being a much lower priority.
Which makes sense, even economically.
"Taking Stock of Public Lands Grazing" is an economic analysis from the 1990s, but likely the conclusions still hold true.
Given that agriculture is the direct source of only a small fraction of total economic activity, that livestock grazing is only a fraction of total agricultural activity, that federal forage is only a fraction of the total feed required by western livestock, and that feed is only one source of the value created in livestock production, it should not be surprising if that federal forage supports only a very small fraction of total economic activity in the West.
At the time of the study, just 0.1% of income in Harney County came from economic activity due to grazing on federal lands. That's one-tenth of one percent. And only 3.1% of jobs in the county were supported by federal land grazing.
So recreation, tourism, wildlife conservation, and such likely are more important to Harney County than welfare ranching.
Update: I just came across a typically geeky-correct post on this subject from the 538 folks: "The Armed Oregon Ranchers Who Want Free Land Are Already Getting A 93 Percent Discount." Excerpt:
According to a 2015 report by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Bureau of Land Management’s fees for grazing cattle on public land are much lower than the fees charged by private landowners, and they’ve only become cheaper in recent years.
...So getting to buy grazing rights from the Bureau of Land Management is a steal, unless, like the Bundys, you think the government is trying to charge you for what’s rightfully yours.
I've written several blog posts on this subject. Since it's a pleasure to quote myself, I'll do just that.
I don't like ATVs wrecking nature. But I also don't like the attitude of "welfare ranchers" who get to graze livestock on public land for ridiculously low fees, then complain that they're not able to do just what they want on their property.
Such as killing wolves, even though these natural predators account for only a minuscule percentage of livestock losses.
Also, keeping people off of leased public land... It'd help if ranchers paid higher lease fees that truly covered the cost of both the grazing right and the environmental damage done by their livestock. Then they'd have a better argument for keeping other taxpayers off of the public land they're leasing.
Face the facts, ranchers. You're feeding at the public trough.
Government is keeping you in business if you graze cattle on federal land. So this is one reason why you need to go along with the public will regarding wolves. Which currently is saying, "Let them become part of the balance of nature again."
Ranchers wrongly believe that wolves are a much bigger threat to livestock than they really are, so they jump to an erroneous conclusion -- wolf kill! -- when they see a dead animal.
Again, ranchers need to remember that when they're using public land, they're getting a taxpayer funded benefit, just like welfare recipents do. They should feel grateful for that subsidy of their operations and not complain when reasonable restrictions are placed on their use of public property.
Ranchers should chill about wolves and spend their energy worrying about other more serious problems. Like, how much longer is the public going to let them get away with welfare ranching?
Many ranchers in Oregon graze their cattle on public lands. According to the “Welfare Ranching” book, federal permittees pay only $1.35 per month to graze a cow-calf pair while the average monthly cost of grazing a cow-calf pair on private lands is $11.10. So us taxpayers should have a lot to say about what happens on public ranchland, since we’re the ones subsidizing the ranchers.