I was glad to see JWR and SurvivalBlog writing about this topic. There are many historical aspects to this situation that seem to be lacking information. From a macro perspective, what is interesting to me about the entire discourse of the BLM and the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act is how the entire law was largely about resources. The Oregon situation is also about resources. Sure, there are many narratives and news stories that provide different information and details about differences in perspective. However, let us not lose sight as prudent people to a major theme that surrounds the entire situation of the BLM and currently Harney County.
The 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) began in 1964 with the congressional appointed Public Law Land Review Commission. The short history of the FLPMA is that no one really cared, and there was really no support for any legislation from 1964 to 1973. There are two narratives that surround the FLPMA. One is of environmental concern that was supported by the Democrats and environmental lobby, while the second was of the Republicans and their concern for conservation of natural resources. Due to population growth in relation to people leaving rural areas for urban centers post WWII with the creation of suburbia, congressional members argued that the federal lands were managed by outdated and archaic laws.
As I mentioned that no one really cared from 1964 to 1973, the 1973 Saudi oil embargo changed the entire situation. The 1973 oil embargo spurred legislative action and calls for accounting of the America’s natural resources. Congress stated that the public lands needed to be “managed in a manner which recognizes the Nation’s need for domestic sources of minerals, food, timber, and fiber from the public lands.”i The Los Angeles Times wrote, “The nation lacks an inventory of the mineral resources and the natural phenomena that make up this priceless land. It has no coherent guidelines for setting up fees and recording claims for its use. There is just no plan.”ii President Nixon launched an initiative on 11-7-73 called “Project Independence” that was meant to allow America to achieve energy independence from foreign sources by 1980. If you know your history, America’s energy dependence upon foreign oil increased at a rapid rate from 1973.
How this quick and dirty history relates is that within the FLPMA there was a grandfather clause. The grandfather clause provided protection of existing mining, grazing, and mineral leasing that was being conducted prior to October 21, 1976 and would allow continuation of these activities.iii In the 1980 case law of Rocky Mountain Oil and Gas Association (RMOGA) v. James G. Watt, The United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, stated that the FLPMA was intrinsic to congressional concern over the nations mineral inventory and that James Watt’s interpretation of the law “sacrificed mineral development for environmental concerns and thus was ‘statutorily erroneous’”iv The court ruled in favor of the Rocky Mountain Oil and Gas Association in which interpretation of the ruling suggests that “the court apparently construed the language of the grandfather clause to mean that all mineral leasing activity, including activity on leases granted before and after the FLPMA was enacted, was insulated from the nonimpairment standard.”v This suggests that grazing disputes may have a case in the court of law. As such, we are not hearing any real historical, political, or law references in the media but rather we are hearing emotional appeal that fits a narrative.
Why you should be concerned about this historical context in relation to the current Harney County situation is that this entire discourse is about the availability of resources. From my perspective, availability of resources is a large reason why all of us read this blog daily. Is this current situation in Harney County another recent indicator that resource availability is diminishing and people that are impacted by diminished resources are basically putting their lives on the line to secure their way of life? Regardless, if you’re a supporter of the Bundy’s or very much against what they are doing, take note that a major theme here is resource availability. This topic of resource availability could be crossed referenced to other recent examples of civil unrest in Ferguson, Syria, the Arab Spring, among many other examples. While politics and media narratives play a role in our understanding of how the examples I have mentioned differ, let us take a moment to reflect on the similarities. Some similarities are availability to resources and people responding with violence.