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Government & Politics

Of Mice and Men

More federal land mismanagement out West is stirring up trouble.

May 14, 2014
The meadow jumping mouse

Blame Barack Obama’s aggressive environmental agenda for the land-use fights that have broken out all over the West. The federal government has changed its polices in the last few months, passing over local governments and remaining stubborn on environmental policies. At least two new faces in the administration, both less than six months old, may have something to do with it.

John Podesta, a known “progressive” environmentalist, was brought on in December, in preparation for an environmental regulation push by Obama. And last November, Obama nominated Neil Kornze to head the Bureau of Land Management, which manages 13% of the total land in the United States, the bulk of which is in the West. Before taking the reins of BLM, Kornze advised Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and he also worked on the Western Solar Plan.

While the headlines were full of the standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch, another group seems to have made more headway against government overreach. The ranchers of Otero County, New Mexico, decided to petition the government through legal means, with the backing of their local government.

On April 25, the Otero County Commission called an emergency meeting. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) was erecting a three-foot fence that kept cattle away from water in order to protect the endangered meadow jumping mouse. The commission cried foul saying the ranchers had rights to the water, and they wrote a cease and desist letter to USFS. “This amounts to nothing short of criminal trespass by your personnel, potential animal cruelty and several other violations of state criminal or civil law,” the commission stated in the letter. “Otero County respectfully demands that the USFS immediately cease and desist from all such activities. We respectfully encourage USFS to take a step back and respect private property rights and state law which the USFS has thus far failed to consider.”

District 3 Commissioner Ronny Rardin added, “I guess we need to put the cattle on the endangered species list so you guys can work diligently to protect them.”

When that didn’t work, the commission ordered Sheriff Benny House to open the gates so cattle could access water. But House hoped it wouldn’t escalate. “What’s going to happen here is that we could end up with a Bundy situation,” he said. “Hopefully, we can resolve it without it getting out of hand.”

Meanwhile, state legislators across the West are meeting, discussing how the states can wrest control of federal lands, which take up vast swaths of their states. The local governments “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” as Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, may be the best tool for checking too much federal power. The Endangered Species List has become a favorite vehicle for abusing that power.

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