When It Happens Again

Pat Ford considers implications for our public lands after the outcome of the Bundy situation.

Editor’s note: This posting was authored by Pat Ford. Many years ago, Pat served as the executive director of ICL. Most recently, he was the executive director for Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. Pat lives in Boise, Idaho, and periodically contributes to the ICL blog.

The Bundy men will suffer no legal consequences from their armed takeover of public lands, and armed confrontation with public lands and law enforcement people trying to do their jobs.

This is not an outcome I ever imagined. More fool me, perhaps, but I am stunned.

I hope for a few good autopsies of what went wrong. My pressing question is, what do we do when it happens again, especially if in or near Idaho? Say, between now and November?

I am wondering what I will do, and my public lands-using friends, and organized Idaho conservation.

I have to think about going there the next time, wherever there is. Be it occupation, demonstration, or pop-up fakery, it will be televised, videoed, and screened. Trying to compete for visual attention must be thought through, but I don’t see how we can leave the public lands stage to Bundy imitators, Ryan Zinke, and the horse, flag and gun visuals that will accompany every story, whether Breitbart News or New York Times.

Can we claim, and transmit, yes, our role on that stage, but first and most the land’s role, center of its own stage. Can we speak, visually more than wordily, peacefully and positively, for the places, and to the watching Americans who own them? How do we not just accessorize the fakery, or trip on hidden politics?

I am better at questions than answers. On-site the Malheur spectacle ended in destruction, disarray, and death—and not I think much gain at the time for its incendiaries. Now I fear their legal exoneration will couple with political warfare and “media” (I don’t know what that word means anymore) to make their next spectacles much larger threats to public understanding and backing for public lands.

A related question also presses: what will or can people working for the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and etc. do? When it happens again and they are forced to respond, will Messrs. Zinke, Perdue and you-know-who have their backs? Well, we know that answer, so the question comes back our way. They can’t make a show of it, but these people really do carry the American flag on public lands. Will we have their backs, and how?

I try to stay calm as I tumble all this. Right now I am not calm.

 

— Pat Ford

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